OC Elder Law Blog

Young Teen Heartbroken That Grandma Can’t Attend Prom

close up of corsageWhen one Alabama high schooler made the decision to ask his favorite girl to prom, he thought of the most amazing person in his life–his grandma, nicknamed “Nanny.” Bryce Maine’s grandmother didn’t get the opportunity to go to her own prom when she was in high school, so the Eufala teen thought it would be a sweet gesture to take her to his. Regrettably, the school didn’t think it was so sweet, and declined to allow Bryce’s grandma to attend.

The ruling came as part of an overall rule that ensures the safety of the students during the annual dance. According to the principal, there is an upper age limit that dictates who can go to the prom each year. Unfortunately, Nanny was beyond the age guidelines. Much to the chagrin of Bryce and his followers on Facebook, Nanny would have to sit this one out.

The principal’s reasoning for the ban was simple. Because Nanny was an adult, there was a chance that she could bring alcohol and supply the students with it. The principal also said that bringing older students to prom made a mockery of the event, and would open the floodgates for other students to bring older dates. The principal did not back down, despite heavy online outcry to his decision.

This was not the first time a young person was not allowed to bring a non-student date to prom. The principal said that he had gotten other requests in the past, and had denied each one.

It seems, however, that not all high school principals share the same concern. In April 2017, Connor Campbell of Summerville, South Carolina took his 93 year old grandmother to prom. Austin Dennison of Rockford, Ohio, took his 89-year old great grandmother Dolores to prom—an event she had not been able to afford when she was in high school.

While there is some merit to the claim that older students may compromise the integrity of the event, the outrage stems from the rigidity of the rule. Bryce is not attempting to bring a college-aged adult to prom, he wants to bring his elderly grandmother. His supporters think that the principal should make the decision on a case by case basis instead of instituting wholesale rules that can’t be broken under any circumstance.

The story gained traction online and eventually made its way to the likes of CNN, Inside Edition and Fox News. The response has the public has been mixed. Some people think that the decision was outrageous, while others feel that there need to be guidelines in place to protect students. In the past, students have attempted to bring dates that were college age, with disastrous consequences.

Our estate planning attorneys in Orange County can’t help but be moved by young Bryce’s story, and we’re happy to report that there is a happy ending to this tale. Bryce decided to take Nanny out on a fancy dinner and dancing date so that she could enjoy the prom experience that she missed out on. Nanny says that she will wear her pretty dress and get a makeover for the event. And the world will be watching this sweet story unfold.

Yoga for Arthritis Pain

3 senior citizens stretching in yoga classBuilding strong muscles through yoga is one of the best ways to alleviate the symptoms that are associated with arthritis. Before you undergo a routine of regular yoga, it pays to understand how this practice can bring arthritis relief.

Yoga is an easy alternative to other forms of exercise like swimming, running and biking. It can burn calories, regulate weight and help to ward off heart disease and diabetes.

Yoga works so well because it can help to reduce inflammation, ease joint tenderness and bring down swelling. Yoga also encourages deep breathing, which improves blood flow and reduces pain. Yoga also helps to relax the body and mind, helping you to deal with the pain and manage the symptoms of your arthritis.

Why Yoga is So Effective

For many people, the pain of arthritis also causes a great deal of anxiety and stress. This stress increases the pain, leading to a cycle which is difficult to break. Living with a chronic disease is never easy, but yoga can make it more bearable through mind-relaxing exercise and deep breathing. Yoga encourages you to listen to and respect your body and to understand the messages it is sending.

Yoga is literally the most flexible form of exercise there is. If your pain is in your knees, you can focus on your upper body instead. If you have pain some days in one part of the body, and pain in another part on other days, you have the flexibility to switch up your routine depending on what is more comfortable for you at the time.

Yoga can also help to get you back on your feet after long periods of time without exercise. You can ease back in with light stretching and gentle poses.

Starting Yoga

There are certain types of yoga that are tailored for people who suffer from chronic pain. Gentle forms of yoga like Iyengar, hatha or anusara are recommended for those who are just starting out.

Avoid hot yoga and Bikram as they may be more intense and stressful on the body and worsen the condition. Before you undergo any type of exercise, it pays to consult with your rheumatologist to find out what is appropriate for your body.

You will definitely want to get started on your yoga journey with a trained instructor in an in-person environment if you are looking to fight arthritis. Most experts recommend that you avoid trying to do it yourself or with an at-home video as you’re getting started. A trained instructor can tailor the exercise to your body’s needs and adjust the poses as necessary.

The “no pain, no gain” mantra does not apply here. If you are in the middle of an arthritis flare up, it may be useful to save your workout for another day.

When it comes to finding the best exercise to alleviate the pain of arthritis, yoga tops the list. With its focus on deep breathing, mindfulness and muscle strengthening, yoga is highly recommended for pain relief.

The Shameful Epidemic Of Financial Elder Abuse

elderly man holding headThe 45 million baby boomers in the United States worked hard to prepare for lives beyond retirement. They saved money to ensure they would be able to support themselves and leave a legacy for their families. They worked and earned and were fastidious about investing their money and creating a secure nest egg. And unfortunately, that makes them targets.

Elder financial abuse is on the rise, and many seniors are robbed blind by the people they love and trust. Some of them are suffering from memory loss and dementia. Others don’t have family nearby to check on them. Greedy opportunists take advantage of this and wipe out their hard-earned money, preying on their need for companionship.

The Scam

The players are different each time, but the storyline follows a familiar pattern. A kind stranger approaches a senior at the supermarket or in a place of worship and develops a kinship with them. The senior brings them into their safe spaces—inviting these con artists into their homes. In return, they don’t receive the companionship they seek. They receive a life of financial heartbreak.

A New York City woman is just one of those con artists. Mary Evans was indicted for swindling more than $400,000 from senior men.

She “bumped into” them in grocery stores, pretending to be a friend they had met before. She worked her way into their lives and made off with more than $130,000 in cash and other items, including a Mercedes-Benz. She even pretended to be the wife of another, wiping $225,000 from his bank account.

The Epidemic of Elder Financial Abuse

Sadly, stories like these are all too common. Elder financial abuse is usually perpetrated by someone the victim knows and trusts. This person may have access to sensitive financial information and use that to his advantage. Other criminals convince the senior to sign over control of their assets, stealing the unsuspecting victim’s home and money right from under them.

Elder financial abuse statistics are inaccurate because a lot of these crimes go unreported. The seniors are often ashamed that they were taken in by the fraud. Some are embarrassed because they may have been searching for love before they ended up with the abuser. In many cases, the crime only comes to light when the person’s financial advisers review their finances.

According to Investment News (1), more than 62 percent of financial advisers have suspected that their clients have been victims of this type of elder abuse. The majority of them did not report the crime.

Adding to the problem is the fact that many Americans are living longer, which means more of them are suffering from the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. To further exacerbate the problem, many people are marrying and having children at older ages, leaving a sandwich generation of people who are too busy raising young children to care for elderly parents. The New York Cost of Exploitation Study(2) finds that victims report just 2 percent of all cases of suspected fraud.

Elder financial abuse is a serious crime. If you suspect that you or someone you love is being abused, don’t wait. Take action.

(1)”Advisers on the Front Lines Battle Against Financial Abuse of the Elderly” http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20170403/FEATURE/170339977/advisers-on-front-lines-in-battle-against-financial-abuse-of-the
(2) “The New York State Cost of Financial Exploitation Study,” http://www.nyselderabuse.org/documents/CostofFinancialExploitationStudyFINALMay2016.pdf

Queen Mary in Long Beach Restored

close up image of the Queen Mary shipOne of Long Beach’s most recognizable landmarks, The Queen Mary, has received a massive face lift. The iconic vessel has recently been transformed into a sprawling, 65-acre resort and entertainment destination. The former cruise ship is one of the most sought after attractions in Long Beach, and features new attractions like ice climbing walls, world class shopping, five star dining and live entertainment.

If you have ever wanted to try a cruise without committing to a week at sea, the Queen Mary is just the ticket. Not long ago, this huge cruise ship, which ceased sailing decades ago, was in danger of sinking if it did not receive the proper restoration that it needed. Now, a new developer has come in and assumed a lease on the property, commencing repairs and making it a world class destination for tourists and locals alike.

Taylor Woods, principal of Urban Commons said that Queen Mary Island would provide an entertainment destination for the whole family. With a boardwalk, outdoor concert area and more than 200 hotel rooms, the complex is like a city unto itself. The design team has upgraded the ship and its plaza with contemporary features, while retaining its historical details that hearken back to its sailing heyday in the 1940s.

Visitors can now book their space on the iconic vessel and make reservations for dining and shows. Both the developers and Long Beach mayor Robert Garcia hope that the Queen Mary Island resort will bring much needed revenue to the city.

The Queen Mary is central to downtown, just steps from aquariums, museums, tours and cruise ship ports. The island is great for both adventure and relaxation. With a trampoline park, zip line, climbing wall and spa, there is definitely something for everyone right in the heart of Long Beach.

George Clooney Surprises Fan for Her 87th Birthday

Actor George Clooney and his wife AmalSome people are thrilled to get a gift, a cake or balloons for their birthday. For one senior citizen, however, this birthday was unforgettable. Pat Adams, an 87-year old resident at the Sunrise Sonning retirement home was thrilled to meet her favorite actor, George Clooney, for her birthday.

Clooney walked in with a bunch of flowers and a card for the sprightly senior, bringing a beaming smile to her face. The staff of the facility were not expecting a visit from the actor, and everyone was thrilled to receive a visit from Clooney. Mrs. Adams had written letters asking if her favorite celebrity could pay her a visit in honor of her birthday. She was shocked to see him walk through the door.

Clooney and his wife Amal have a home right outside of London, not far from the Sunrise Sonning facility. They often visit the surrounding area, stopping in at pubs and restaurants. On this day, however, Clooney made a detour and spent time visiting the elderly birthday girl, making her wish come true. Mrs. Adams describes herself as his “biggest fan,” and was thrilled by his visit.

Clooney, who is expecting a baby, dropped in unannounced. The star, who has recently played a leading role in the hit movie “Money Monster,” intentionally did not tell the staff ahead of time that he would be making an appearance, as he wanted to keep his visit low-key in order to avoid taking the focus off of Mrs. Adams.

Linda Jones, a staff person at Sunrise Sonning says that Mrs. Adams absolutely adores Clooney, and had long wished that she could meet the actor and told the staff that she would be thrilled if he stopped in for a chat. Never did she imagine that her wish would come true and that she would receive a once in a lifetime birthday gift. Mrs. Adams spent the visit chatting with the star, taking photos and enjoying the pleasant surprise.

George Clooney is known for not only his acting but also his humanitarian work. Clooney has worked with organizations to stop human rights violations in the Darfur region of Sudan, and has also made financial contributions to more than two dozen other charities that focus on protecting children and stopping human rights crimes.

Our hats are off to Mr. Clooney for taking time out of his busy schedule to make a senior citizen smile!

 

Senior Discounts in Long Beach

photograph of the queen mary shipLong Beach is a diverse city that has many attractions, restaurants, and fun events throughout the year. It is also one of the most culturally diverse areas of Southern California, packed with museums, educational institutions and attractions. Finding senior discounts for all that Long Beach has to offer is simple if you know where to look. Seeing as how we are estate planning attorneys in Long Beach, we wanted to give our seniors a heads up on some of the discounts they can enjoy around the city!

Aquarium of the Pacific

The Aquarium of the Pacific brings the ocean indoors, with thousands of varieties of fish, sharks, seahorses and other ocean-going creatures. Enjoy viewing baby penguins, explore sea lion habitats and watch sea otters at play at this Southern California marvel. Seniors enjoy daily discounts of $3 off regular adult admission and pay only $26.95 for entry.

The Queen Mary

One of the most famous landmarks in Long Beach is of course the Queen Mary, a boutique hotel onboard a cruise ship. Your ship won’t sail from the port, but you will still get the “at sea” experience in a stateroom replete with porthole windows, all you can eat buffets and live entertainment. The Queen Mary is in the center of it all, just steps from the Aquarium of the Pacific and a short ride from breathtaking Catalina Island.

Prices vary based on your room type but senior tours of The Queen Mary are available.

The Catalina Express

Just 22 miles from the coast of Long Beach is Catalina Island. This island features watersports, boating, dining and shopping in a tropical paradise. The Catalina Express is a luxury yacht that will get you there in style in just under an hour. Schedule a round trip and enjoy a day on the island while relaxing under a warm California sun. Upgrade to the Commodore or Captain’s Lounge for priority boarding, a relaxing private space and complimentary beverage.

Pricing starts at $33.25 for seniors.

Art Theater of Long Beach

The Art Theater of Long Beach is one of the most historic theaters in the city, and shows both cult classics and independent films. The theater is located in downtown Long Beach, and is centrally located in what has been dubbed “Retro Row,” — an area packed with shopping, dining and entertainment.

Senior tickets for showings are $8.50 for evening and matinee shows.

Long Beach Segway Tours

There is no better way to see all that SoCal has to offer than through a segway tour. Cruise around on your own personal segway and view beachfront, shopping districts and outdoor dining while relaxing and taking in the warm Southern California air. A 2-hour downtown tour will show you all of the sights and sounds of the area and you can go at your own pace.

Pricing starts at $79 per tour.

Long Beach is a magnet for visitors of all ages, and you can find excellent senior discounts on tours, dining, shopping and accommodations.

Jimmy Buffet to Open Margaritaville Inspired Retirement Communities

neon margaritaville signRetirement has just gotten a lot more laid back with the new chain of active living communities inspired by Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Complete with spas, pools, fitness centers and world class shopping, these neighborhoods offer everything that you would find in an upscale, all-inclusive Caribbean resort.

Luxury is All-Inclusive

More than just a place to live, the owners of Minto Communities hope that the Margaritaville properties will be a destination. On track to open in the fall of 2017, the signature property will feature a bandshell for live entertainment events, a private beachfront club and a lap pool. The community, which is golf cart friendly, will open in Daytona Beach, Florida and hopes to welcome residents by the spring of 2018.

Margaritaville will feature some of buffet’s signature eateries and bars. The “Five O’Clock Somewhere” bar and the “Cheeseburger in Paradise” restaurants will both feature indoor and outdoor seating and the iconic menu items that made the chain famous.

Bill Bullock, Senior Vice President of Minto Communities hopes that residents will find their new community a fun way to enjoy retirement while building new social connections. The community is planned to be less “retirement home,” more “resort.”

Bullock says that the homes range in price from $200,000 to $300,000 and offer all of the amenities that residents come to expect. The community, to be named “Latitude Margaritaville,” will feature 7,000 homes and more than 200,000 square feet of retail space.

Jimmy Buffett’s empire started in Key West, Florida in 1985 when he opened his first Margaritaville store. Today, the legendary singer owns properties all over the globe, from timeshare properties to hotels, casinos and restaurants. In 2017, Buffet broke ground on Margaritaville Resort Orlando, and includes more than 300 time share units and a hotel featuring 187 rooms.

The $1 billion property hopes to attract residents who are looking for an experience like none other. With a tropical vibe, swaying palms and lively music providing the background for easy living, Margaritaville is an escape from it all. As an added bonus, residents may be in for a surprise. Bullock suggests that perhaps the legendary Jimmy Buffet may stop in for a quick concert.

Katherine Jackson Files Restraining Order in Elder Abuse Case

Katherine JacksonIt was recently reported by TMZ that a judge granted Katherine Jackson, the mother of the late Michael Jackson a restraining order against her nephew-in-law, Trent Jackson February 8. The Los Angeles judge granted the order after Mrs. Jackson alleged that Trent had been engaging in elder abuse against her by taking advantage of her financially and emotionally for several years.

Court documents state that Trent had been serving as a driver to Mrs. Jackson but was gradually able to take over her financial affairs and block her from contact with friends and family. According to the complaint, Trent screened her phone calls and restricted her from talking to friends and family, intercepted her mail and falsely reported to bank employees that he was her representative. Trent, 52, denies these allegations.

The complaint also alleges that Mrs. Jackson has to hide from Trent and that he uses bullying tactics against her. Mrs. Jackson reports hiding in the closet to talk to her children in privacy. Attorneys for Mrs. Jackson state that she is easily manipulated, and she recants her accounts of abuse whenever Adult Protective Services representatives open investigations into the elder abuse.

Mrs. Jackson also claims that Trent has wired her home with hidden video cameras and audio recording devices to ensure that she is unable to seek help. In the complaint, Mrs. Jackson states that she has to change her clothes in the closet to avoid being seen by the cameras.

Other complaints against Trent include accusations that he has used Mrs. Jacksons’ credit cards for his own personal expenses and attempted to take over legal responsibility for her businesses. He has also been accused of being emotionally abusive to Mrs. Jackson through manipulation, intimidation and threats.

Jermaine Jackson, Mrs. Jackson’s son also described an incident in which Trent threw one of the Jackson sisters against a wall, beat Jermaine’s nephew and hit Mr. Jackson. Jermaine claims that Trent has stolen more than $40,000 from the elder Mrs. Jackson.

Mrs. Jackson also alleges that Trent ignored her cries for help when she needed medical attention, preferring to treat her himself. Rebbie Jackson, Mrs. Jackson’s daughter claims that Trent blocked her number from Mrs. Jackson’s phone, restricting her ability to communicate with her mother. She also claimed that Trent attempted to have her name removed from Mrs. Jackson’s medical directives.

Trent Jackson denies that he is guilty of the elder abuse of which he is accused. He claims that the allegations are a ploy on the part of the surviving Jackson siblings to claim a larger portion of the late pop singer’s estate. He claims that the brothers and sisters want to get him out of the way so that they can pressure their mother into asking for a larger portion of the singer’s estate.

The restraining order states that Trent is stay 100 yards from Mrs. Jackson and her home at all times. This means that he will have to relinquish his current residence in the guest house on the property.

As elder law attorneys in Long Beach, Fullerton, Newport Beach, and Chino, we are greatly disturbed anytime we hear an account of elder abuse, and we urge you to call us today if you or a loved one has been victimized.

5 Tips For Managing Chronic Pain In The Elderly

diagram of human body with chronic painIt’s a sobering fact that more than fifty percent of senior citizens who live at home, and the majority that live in nursing homes experience chronic pain. This pain is often caused by long-term illness and often goes untreated. Without proper pain management, chronic pain can cause depression, loss of sleep, weight loss and social withdrawal.

When it comes to caring for the elderly, managing chronic pain is essential. From decreasing stress to increasing exercise and staying on a pain relief regimen, it pays to manage your pain and keep it at bay.

Here’s our list of 5 tips for managing chronic pain:

  1. Manage Chronic Pain

One of the best ways to manage chronic pain in the elderly is through careful use of pain relief medication. Some seniors with chronic pain often stop taking their medication because the side effects are often less than desirable. Some medications interfere with others and seniors are forced to choose which combination of medications will bring the relief they need.

  1. Work With a Doctor

Some elderly patients skip doctor’s appointments or simply stop taking their medication. Skipping doses means that the medicine doesn’t have a chance to build up in the body. This can potentially make the pain more intense. If your loved one is living with chronic pain, it is important that they take their medication as directed.

  1. Try Pain Therapies

One of the ways that the elderly manage pain is through alternative pain therapies. Acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, and light exercise have been shown helpful in managing pain.  Stress relief techniques like yoga, meditation, music therapy and hypnosis can also make dealing with the effects of chronic pain easier.

There have been studies that have shown that owning a pet can reduce stress and by extension, pain in seniors. If your senior loves animals, consider getting a dog or a cat to help with the calming process.

  1. Pay Attention to Stress Reduction

Stress can make chronic pain worse, so caregivers should take extra care to reduce stress in the elderly. This can mean adapting their surroundings in order to make home life less stressful. For seniors who are dealing with chronic pain, avoid having a lot of people and noise in the household. If they have pain in their joints, allow them to live on the ground floor of their home so that they don’t have to climb stairs. Install railings on toilets and in the bath so that seniors don’t have to bend or stoop when bathing.

  1. Enjoy a Healthy Diet

Foods that are high in sugar or salt content can cause inflammation, which makes pain worse. By eating a balanced diet, seniors can enjoy healthier lifestyles, which may in turn reduce chronic pain. A diet rich in fruits, whole grains and vegetables is one of the best defenses against painful inflammation. Avoid fried foods, those with high salt content and foods high in sugar to keep weight to a healthy level and reduce the incidences of inflammation and related pain.

Taking Control of an Elderly Relative’s Finances

Unfortunately, difficult conversations about finances, relationships, and our inevitable death are simply a part of life. However, having these somewhat troubling discussions in times of good health and happiness usually make them infinitely easier. The same goes for creating a plan to take control of an elderly relative’s finances.

With all the incredible advancements of modern technology and healthcare, in general people are living much longer lives. As parents continue to age, their children are facing the fact that they may need to step in and help with paying bills, making investments, or even arranging for long-term care services.

It’s important to remember that for a senior citizen, planning for the future involves so much more than simply dealing with finances. It’s also vital to take the time to understand your relative’s priorities when it comes to lifestyle, independence, and emergency care options in the event that their health fails. It may seem morbid, but clarifying all of these details ahead of time will prevent as much conflict and stress possible for everyone. In many cases, you may also be able to virtually eliminate the need to concern yourself with issues like guardianship proceedings or incompetency declarations.

The best and most important item to begin with is setting up a HIPAA authorization form and a Health Care Power of Attorney. The HIPAA form gives the designee permission to access important medical information, but does not grant decision making power. However, a Health Care Power of Attorney allows someone to make critical medical decisions on your loved one’s behalf in the event that they are unable to make those decisions themselves.

Next, it’s vital to begin the asset protection planning process by creating a comprehensive estate plan. An estate plan should also designate a Property Power of Attorney, which grants the chosen person the legal authority to act on your relative’s behalf when deciding what to do with homes, businesses, and other assets.

After these basic steps are taken care of, it’s a good idea to try to automate as many financial transactions as possible. Set up direct deposits and automated payments for utilities, rent, and other expenses. Compile and securely store any important documents like benefit plans, bank accounts, and insurance policies. Also, make sure to double check that there are no supplemental benefit plans or long-term care insurance that may have been forgotten.

Finally, your loved one may even qualify for several federal and state benefit programs. Explore the variety of options on benefitscheckup.org and eldercare.gov for discounts on taxes and utility bills, as well as information on local health care and social services providers.

As an estate planning lawyer that specializes in elder law, I can tell you although these conversations can be difficult, initiating them as soon as possible is always the best course of action. The plans you create will help your relative live a life that runs smoothly and is free of worry, and as time passes you will both be more confident and prepared to face any difficult situations that may arise.

Head of Veteran’s Affairs Rules out Privatization

image of American flagDavid Shulkin, who is now the Under Secretary of Health for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, has been nominated by President Donald Trump to head the second largest federal department in the United States. If confirmed, the 57 year old physician would be the first non-veteran to lead the agency, and the only remaining ex-Obama administration official serving in Trump’s cabinet.

In prepared remarks he recently made to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Shulkin said, “VA is a unique national resource that is worth saving, and I am committed to doing just that. There will be far greater accountability, dramatically improved access, responsiveness and expanded care options, but the Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized under my watch.”

Despite clearly ruling out privatization, Shulkin promised to push for a major overhaul of the “broken process” that has led to the massive backlog of veteran’s benefits claims and appeals currently weighing down the department. He doubled down on his promise by saying, “If confirmed, I intend to build a system that puts veterans first and allows them to get the best possible health care, wherever it may be.”

Shulkin is currently responsible for managing a system that oversees 9 million veterans in over 1,700 facilities, and was also given the daunting task of improving wait times for medical care after a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center. In his prepared testimony, Shulkin acknowledged that the scandal had drastically decreased veterans’ confidence in the department, as veterans waited months for care or even passed away while some VA employees falsified internal documentation to cover up the delays.

Shulkin also did not rule out closing underused VA facilities in an attempt to reign in the budget, and said he may explore new partnerships to avoid building new medical centers that were too expensive or slow to become established.

In response to the estimated 20 veterans who commit suicide each day, Shulkin also cited Obama administration efforts to combat these statistics by hiring more mental health professionals to work in the department. In fact, the VA currently has over 45,000 job openings, most of which are within the department’s health care system. However, due to the current federal hiring freeze, he could not specify what staffing plans he intends to make for the department.

Overall, Shulkin is supported by several of the largest veterans’ organizations, as many of them also oppose greater privatization of the department. Shulkin has repeatedly testified on his unwavering commitment to making necessary changes to the department in order to regain the trust of veterans and their families, and even encouraged the panel to hold him accountable and replace him if he was not successful in fulfilling his promises.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has advanced the nomination of David Shulkin to be VA secretary with overwhelming support and a vote of 15 to 0. Since Shulkin’s nomination has yet to draw any significant opposition, many lawyers, veteran’s groups, and congressional lawmakers believe that the Senate will easily be able to confirm him sometime in the next week.

3 Reasons Why You Need an Estate Plan

estate plan with fountain pen laying on topUnfortunately, it’s very common for people to decide to meet with an estate planning lawyer only after seeing the trouble caused after a loved one’s failure to create an estate plan. Having a plan in place ahead of time can make difficult situations much less painful for everyone involved.

So why is it that so many people still avoid creating an estate plan? Aside from the obviously morbid and sometimes unsettling discussions the process requires, many assume that estate planning is too time-consuming and/or expensive. However, setting up an estate plan isn’t quite as complicated as it may seem. Estate planning might be as simple as adding a new beneficiary to your insurance policies, and other assets, or drafting wills and trusts to ensure that all of your last wishes are carried out appropriately.

For those who don’t already have a plan in place, we’ve put together a short list of some of the reasons why asset protection planning is so crucial for you and your loved ones.

1. Protecting Beneficiaries:

Protecting minor beneficiaries is one of the most important reasons that people should consider establishing an estate plan. Every state has laws that require an appointed guardian or conservator to manage a minor’s needs until they become a legal adult at age 18 or 21, depending on the state in which the minor lives.

Folks often assume that their family members will handle their affairs appropriately according to wishes that have been verbally communicated. Unfortunately, it does not always work out that way in times of distress. Taking the time now to designate a trustee for your minor beneficiaries will help prevent disagreements among family members and unnecessary legal expenses after your death.

A comprehensive estate plan will also help protect any of your adult beneficiaries from making poor financial decisions and avoid problems with creditors or overbearing partners that you fear may waste the inheritance or take it in a divorce.

2. Reducing Estate Taxes:

Estate plans are also a great way for people to help curb the loss of value in one’s assets to state and/or federal inheritance or estate taxes. Married couples can reduce and even potentially eliminate estate taxes through basic financial planning strategies and by setting up trusts as a part of their wills. Additionally, an estate planning lawyer can advise both married couples and individuals on a variety of advanced estate planning techniques to minimize or completely eradicate a potentially hefty estate tax bill.

3. Avoiding Probate:

Avoiding probate is definitely one of the most common reasons why people decide to take the time to create a solid estate plan. Without one, the fates of your assets and your loved ones will most likely be decided by attorneys or state and/or federal officials that don’t know you or your family. Probate court is expensive, painfully public, and can delay the transfer of inheritance for several months or longer at a time when your heirs need it most. While most people have never even dealt with probate, several horror stories highlighted in the media has made it common knowledge that we want to avoid it at all costs.

Loneliness in Senior Citizens May Lead to Health Trouble

elderly man sits alone on benchStrong social connections are a vital part of life for most people but, as our estate planning attorneys have seen firsthand, as we age our relationships usually end up changing or disappearing altogether. Unfortunately, a lack of connections to friends, family, and the outside world can cause major problems for senior citizens.

A recently published NPR article highlights the concerns that geriatricians and social service providers across the country have about the impact of loneliness among the elderly. Their worries have real merit, as evidence from several studies show links between emotional isolation in senior citizens to physical inactivity and poor sleep, which can eventually lead to more serious health problems. Even worse, according to the AARP website, the health threat of loneliness and isolation in senior citizens is almost equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Indeed, the article states that studies show that elderly people who feel lonely are at greater risk of high blood pressure, poor immune function, memory loss, strokes, and heart disease. One such study from 2012 showed that 43 percent of people over 60 report feeling lonely. The study also found that senior citizens who felt lonely and isolated had a higher risk of death, even if they didn’t live alone or hadn’t been diagnosed with depression or Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Carla Perissinotto, a UCSF researcher and geriatrician who authored the study said, “If someone reports feeling lonely, they are more likely to lose their independence and are at greater risk of dying solely from being lonely.”

There are several hurdles in helping the elderly overcome loneliness, but one of the most challenging remains safe and reliable transportation options.  Once seniors lose the ability to drive, affordable and accessible transportation can be very difficult to find, and those with fragile health conditions or are nervous to leave the house alone end up just staying inside.

Fortunately, there are more efforts being made to help build new social connections and reduce isolation for elderly Americans without them having to take on the risk and burden of traveling outside. These efforts include roommate matching services in various states, non-profit organizations that partner volunteers with senior citizens for visits and check-ins, and call-in hotlines to simply allow users to chat and share their feelings.

The AARP Foundation also recently launched a nationwide online network titled Connect2Affect that allows seniors to learn about the risks of isolation, do a loneliness self-assessment test, and reach out to peers that also feel disconnected.

Although there isn’t much research done about the effectiveness of the outreach programs yet, the AARP, the Gerontological Society of America, and other organizations are hoping to create more awareness and understanding of these issues in the meantime. As chief medical officer of AARP Services Dr. Charlotte Yeh said, “Loneliness is a huge issue we don’t talk enough about.”

As estate planning attorneys that work with senior citizens on a daily basis, we hope that this information can help you or your family member understand the risks of isolation and loneliness, as well as the benefits of building more social connections.

Federal Programs to Help Caregivers for the Elderly

daughter and mother sitting on benchAs estate planning attorneys, we know it can be very overwhelming for family members to care for their aging parents or spouse. Between dealing with health issues, grappling with medical insurance and complex financial concerns, it’s understandable that so many people struggle with finding the appropriate elder care. Luckily, there are several federal programs that have been developed to support family caregivers, and a recently published article on the AARP website details the government assistance options that are currently available.

Before researching these programs, we recommend starting a file with useful documents about your parent or spouse’s finances, work history, military background, and overall health. This information will be helpful for you to determine which federal programs you may be able to receive support from. The National Council on Aging’s BenefitsCheckUp program is also another great resource that will ask a few simple questions to help you find appropriate benefits.

Most senior citizens aged 65 or older already have or qualify for health coverage through Medicare, so it’s important for caregivers to understand how Medicare works. The Medicare website clarifies everything, from hospital stays to prescription drugs and medical insurance plans. You’ll also find sections that explain billing terms, which procedures are covered, finding caregiver and financial support services, and information on how to care for someone with a disability or chronic condition.

Medicaid is another health care program for low-income Americans, and is also the nation’s largest payer of nursing homes and independent living services. It is funded by both the federal government and states, so seniors must meet certain eligibility criteria in their state to be entitled to Medicaid benefits. If they do, several states have participant-directed care programs that allow family members to be paid as family caregivers.

If your parent has limited resources and is 65 or older or blind or disabled, they may also qualify for Supplemental Security Income, as well as Extra Help with prescription drug costs through Social Security. If you are a caregiver near retirement age, you may also consider claiming Social Security benefits. However, our estate planning attorneys suggest that you consider speaking to a financial professional before deciding to do so. As Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging explains, deciding when to claim benefits is “the most important financial decision [most Americans] will ever make.”

The Department of Veteran Affairs also offers information on several veterans benefits and assistance programs to help low-income veterans and family caregivers. One such program, entitled Aid and Attendance, pays qualifying veterans and surviving spouses who need help with daily living activities like eating, dressing, and bathing. Veteran’s benefits planning services are also available through the Veteran-Directed Care program, and gives veterans of all ages the power to hire family members as caregivers and enjoy an at home long-term care plan.

Although in many cases these federal assistance programs do not provide financial aid, they offer a valuable resource for elderly Americans and their caregivers to connect to the information and services that can provide seniors with a higher quality of life.

Further Cuts to Social Security Could Be Ahead

scissors cutting a piece of paper with the word "budget" on itFor many Americans, the bulk of retirement planning revolves around expectations of their future Social Security benefits. However, our estate planning attorneys have seen firsthand that the reality of these benefits isn’t always exactly what people expect; due to changes in government policy.

Texas Rep. Sam Johnson, chair of the Social Security subcommittee, hopes to preserve the program while improving retirement security with a piece of recently introduced legislation that would significantly cut Social Security benefits.

Upon introducing the bill, entitled the Social Security Reform Act of 2016 (H.R. 6489), Chairman Johnson stated, “For years I’ve talked about the need to fix Social Security so that our children and grandchildren can count on it to be there for them…My commonsense plan is the start of a fact-based conversation about how we do just that.”

The Social Security Board of Trustees has already warned lawmakers that the program is on course to fail. Indeed, this year’s Trustees Report predicted that workers would face a 21% cut in benefits starting in 2034 if Congress did nothing to reform the program.

For most workers, the reform bill would considerably cut Social Security benefits. In fact, a letter from Social Security’s Office of the Actuary showed that workers making around $50,000 annually would see benefit checks reduced by between 11% and 35%. Virtually every income bracket, besides the very bottom, would see a reduction. The plan would also completely eliminate costs of living adjustments (COLA) for retirees earning more than $85,000.

The Social Security Reform Act of 2016 hopes to ensure Social Security will be there when Americans need it by modernizing the benefits calculation process and using a more accurate measure of inflation for the annual Cost of Living Adjustment. The bill also updates the full retirement age at which workers can claim benefits from 67 to 69 years old to better reflect Americans’ longer life expectancy, while still maintaining the age for early retirement.

Chairman Johnson’s bill also proposed raising the minimum benefit for those who earned less and limiting the size of benefits for spouses and children of higher-income earners. After eliminating the Retirement Earnings Test, workers would also have flexibility in choosing whether to receive benefits without a penalty while they are working or delay retirement and wait to receive benefits. Saving for retirement would also be encouraged by phasing out Social Security’s tax on benefits for workers who stop working due to a disability.

Opponents to Chairman Johnson’s bill prefer strategies such as increasing taxes above the Social Security cap or raising the Social Security tax itself. There is also a bipartisan effort to enact a payroll tax to help keep Social Security funded. Congress will deliberate and vote on Johnson’s proposal in 2017.

Regardless of the outcome of Chairman Johnson’s bill, retirement planning can be a confusing and intimidating process. However, our estate planning attorneys in Long Beach, Orange County, Corona, Palm Desert and Palm Springs are always available to help navigate your family to peace of mind.

How To Recognize and Prevent Phone Scams Against Seniors

scam artist stealing from seniorIn the past few years, we’ve seen a growing number of convincing telephone scams that target the elderly. As elder law and estate planning attorneys that work with senior citizens every day, we hope that by providing information about some common scams, we can prevent you or your elderly family members from being taken advantage of. Here’s our list of the most common telephone scams that target seniors:

The Grandparents Scam

Of course, scams happen every day, but con artists predictably bolster their efforts and take advantage of people’s generosity during the holiday season. For example, one common ploy known as the “grandparent scam” includes a desperate sob story about a relative in trouble who needs money to be able to get home for the holidays.  In many cases, these defrauders may even search the internet looking for information that helps to convince the victims to trust the caller and give out cash.

The IRS Scam

Another one of the most common and intimidating ploys used against the elderly is known simply as the IRS scam. The caller threatens the victim with being arrested for unpaid taxes or a fake debt unless they pay up by providing their credit card or bank routing information over the phone. In some cases, the scammers even change the caller ID information or give out fake badge numbers to convince victims that the call is legitimate.

The Holiday Donation Scam

Even worse are the pitches that request year-end, tax-deductible holiday donations to impostor charities or fundraising events. The scammers pander to sympathetic seniors with pleas to help those in need over the holidays before convincing the victims to provide their credit card information or even social security numbers over the phone.

Our Advice

The best advice that we can give to help you ensure that you or your elderly family members don’t fall victim to holiday scams is to do your research. Before offering your help to anyone claiming to be connected to you, verify the emergency or request with a call to a trusted family member first, and never conduct a financial transaction with a caller who insists on secrecy. If you or your senior relative receives a call about making a charitable donation over the holidays, make sure to verify the number of the organization independently and ask for detailed information about the charity before sending money.

Finally, if you receive a call from someone claiming to be an IRS agent without receiving a mailed letter first, hang up immediately. The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment, threaten legal action if you refuse to pay, or require you to use a specific payment method for any debts. If you did receive a letter from the IRS stating that you owe taxes, call the agency directly at 1-800-829-1040 for more information.

Our estate planning attorneys in Corona, Orange County, and Long Beach have seen multiple seniors fall victim to these scams, and we are committed to bringing awareness to these issues to prevent any further fraud victims.

SeniorServ

Bring Hope to a Homebound Senior Through our Holiday Gift Program

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HOW IT WORKS:

  • Donors receive a clear vinyl Holiday Gift Bag provided by SeniorServ to fill with gifts.
  • Each bag contains:
    • Donation envelope for a Holiday Meal
    • Suggested Shopping List

YOU CAN:

  • Purchase a variety of items from the shopping list

Or

  • Include a Holiday Meal donation inside the envelop

Or

  • Purchase a Holiday Gift Card: $25 prepaid Debit card, Target or Walmart card

Return the bag and/or meal donation by December 7, 2016 to:

OC Elder Law

619 N. Harbor Blvd.

Fullerton, CA 92832

800-220-4205

Jennifer@ocelderlaw.com

OC Elder Law will give the donations to SeniorServ, who will distribute all Gift Bags & Gift Cards to seniors served by their Meals on Wheels Program.  Thank you!!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

SeniorServ

What Can Seniors Expect From a Trump Presidency?

trump-and-senior-citizensWith the recent election of Donald Trump, along with continued Republican majorities in the House and Senate, our estate planning attorneys predict that we might see some cuts to federal programs that benefit senior citizens in the near future.

According to the Tax Policy Center, President-elect Trump has proposed a $6.2 trillion tax cut—one of the largest in modern US history. The question is: Where will the money come from, and how will it affect seniors?

Over the course of his campaign, Mr. Trump has promised to leave Social Security and Medicare as is. However, our estate planning  attorneys believe that programs like Medicaid and other senior services funded through the Older Americans Act could begin to feel the pressure of the cuts.

Regardless, over the last several years funding for most of these programs has remained constant even though the number of people using benefits has grown. As a result, budget cuts may make a significant impact on current or new beneficiaries and will undoubtedly keep elder law attorneys across the country very busy.

As a more specific response to our previous query, President-elect Trump has endorsed a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cap federal spending for Medicaid while calling for cost savings in the Medicare drug program.

Repealing the controversial ACA, referred to commonly as “Obamacare,” is one of Trump’s first top priorities once he arrives in the Oval Office. While most of the current debate on the ACA highlights increasing premiums, the law also includes important changes in the way health care is delivered under Medicare. These changes will be especially important for seniors who are suffering from multiple chronic conditions. If the new administration follows through with repealing the ACA, many of those impactful reforms will also be lost.

Medicaid, which provides long-term support and services to millions of seniors, may also experience some changes. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is among many who support Trump in his plan to limit the federal contribution to Medicaid, which is also funded in part by the states. In turn, Medicaid will have a lower amount of money available to reimburse nursing homes and other providers, inevitably reducing their care capacity.

Finally, capping the government’s share of Medicare and Social Security has been discussed by Ryan and other members of congress for years. Doing so would likely lead to huge jumps in premiums for seniors and/or limit their benefits. Again, President-elect Trump said he would oppose such changes, but many believe he may consider accepting further changes endorsed by Congress.

There is no way to know exactly how much, or when President-elect Trump and Congress may enact any changes to these programs, but considering Trump’s campaign promises, older adults and their families should be prepared to make adjustments.

Since 2002, our estate planning attorneys in Orange County have focused on all aspects of elder law, including long-term care and Medi-Cal planning. If you or a family member is in need of assistance in any of these areas, please contact us today.

OC Elder Law Featured in Forbes

In this month’s issue of Forbes, OC Elder Law is featured as a California Leader in Law! In the article we were able to tell Forbes about our commitment to serving seniors and the variety of services that we provide to families to help provide them ease of mind. Put best by Managing Partner Joshua D. Ramirez “OC Elder Law is dedicated to developing a plan for how families are going to take care of themselves now and how they’ll handle things if a crisis occurs in the family or if they suffer a disability. They know who will be able to make decisions for them and what will happen, so they don’t have to worry.” No need to worry if you don’t have a subscription to Forbes, we’ve included a copy of our article below. Enjoy!

OC Elder Law in Forbes

Estate Planning Checklist

estate-planning-checklist

In my time as an estate planning attorney in Orange County, I’ve discovered that many people do not develop a necessary estate plan simply because they think it is too complicated. This is an understandable perception, and some of the topics may be uncomfortable or even painful to talk about to the full extent necessary. However, avoiding these critical discussions can make things much more difficult for you and your family in the long run.

Of course, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when addressing the topic of wills and trusts, especially if you don’t really know where to get started. However, this process is not as challenging as you may think! Just like planning for many other future goals, all it takes to be successful is an organized strategy that breaks the entire process down into a simple step by step checklist.

Conveniently, Go Banking Rates recently laid out a simple 10-step plan to help you identify goals and kick start your estate planning process:

  1. Appoint a general power of attorney so someone you trust can manage your financial and legal decisions for you in the event that you are unable to do so. OC Elder Law’s document library can assist you in this process.
  2. Designate a durable healthcare power of attorney for medical decisions as well so someone can help you take care of your medical needs and enact an end-of-life care plan if necessary.
  3. Create a living will so doctors and hospitals will have on record what medical procedures and/or care you want to receive if you are unable to make your own healthcare decisions.
  4. Write out a complete will to ensure all of your final wishes will be carried out in the manner you see fit. This includes naming a guardian for any children and bequeathing any financial assets.
  5. Draft a living trust so your property does not have to go through the expensive and lengthy probate process and can instead be directly given to your heirs. However, to make the trust effective you must go through the process of actually transferring your assets to it, which may not be right for everyone.
  6. Write out funeral or memorial instructions for your final burial wishes. This should be in a separate document to ensure that your instructions are addressed in a timely manner, as opposed to being lost in the inevitable drawn-out shuffle of sorting through a will.
  7. List all of your accounts and important legal documents such as bank accounts and insurance policies. Also, make copies of estate planning documents, deeds, and titles for cars or other property. Store them in a secure place so family members can access your information easily if something happens to you.
  8. Plan for your pets to be cared for by someone you trust after you pass away. It’s also a good idea to choose back-up beneficiaries in case your first choice is for some reason unable to do so.
  9. Organize digital accounts for social media profiles and various digital information to ensure someone can access your digital accounts after your pass away.
  10. Review your plan every year to make sure it is comprehensive, up to date, and will still work with any future changes to laws around estate taxes and other estate planning issues.

Don’t leave your estate plan to chance! Contact us today to engage with an experienced estate planning attorney in Orange County that will guide you through each step of the process. You’ll be relieved that you did!

Click here for your free printable estate planning check list: Download Estate Planning Checklist.pdf (304.2K)

 

Joint Wills: Are they Right For You?

joint-wills-in-orange-countyIt goes without saying that a last will and testament is an extremely important and personal document, and is designed to lay out the details of someone’s intentions regarding the handling of their property and assets after they die. Failing to create a will can have many unintended consequences, in some cases with the deceased’s property passing to unintended beneficiaries or getting tied up in probate court.

When deciding how to create personal wills and trusts, some couples and/or individuals may decide to create their wills together. These types of wills are called “joint wills”, and in the event of one person’s death the surviving party inherits the entirety of the deceased’s property and assets. The joint will also dictates what happens to the property when the second party dies.

At the fundamental level, this estate planning strategy makes sense for many people. For example, instead of writing and paying for two separate wills, many married couples will choose to simply create a joint will that covers both individuals. Usually the terms of a joint will are relatively simple; both spouses agree that the assets of the first person to pass away will go to the surviving spouse, and when the second spouse passes away the remaining assets are split between the couple’s children (if any). Of course, there are complex situations to address in some cases, but joint wills usually follow this pattern.

However, preventing the surviving spouse to change the terms of a will can have a negative impact on that individual and their remaining family members.

One major caveat to consider is that circumstances often change after the first spouse passes away. The surviving spouse may live many years longer and decides that they may want to divide his or her estate differently after they go through inevitable changes in their personal lives. For instance, the surviving spouse may unexpectedly fall into a new meaningful relationship and remarry, and may even have more children with their new spouse, complicating the issue of how to split the remaining assets of the original will.

Additionally, many people are interested in joint wills because they assume that it costs less to create one will instead of two. However, when a will is drafted for two people, the estate planning attorney must still render advice regarding two estates, so the cost savings from utilizing a joint will is likely to be minimal. Even further, any money you may save by using a joint will may be outweighed by the problems that may arise with your estate years later.

In any case, before deciding to create a joint will, consult with an estate planning attorney to clarify the process and ensure that you have all the information you need to make the best decision for you and your family.

If you are seeking an experienced estate planning attorney in Orange County to help you create a will or comprehensive estate plan, please contact our offices to set up a consultation today! We look forward to hearing from you!

Social Security Benefits Increase in 2017

Social Security Administration BuildingOver the past year, the inflation index that the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses to determine cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) has
increased. Consequently, the SSA recently announced that Social Security benefits (including SSI benefits) will increase automatically in 2017 by a small margin of 0.3 percent.

As an estate planning attorney, I am often surprised to learn how many of my clients currently receiving Social Security benefits don’t fully understand how the COLA is determined each year, or indeed how it affects them. In the simplest terms, inflation is the basic determining factor in Social Security cost-of-living adjustments. If and when prices increase, Social Security and SSI benefits are also bumped up to ensure that beneficiaries are able to maintain their purchasing power.

More specifically, cost of living adjustments depend on an index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics called the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). This index tracks average prices for daily expenses that directly affect workers and retirees, such as clothing, food, housing, transportation, and medical care.

Although the CPI-W is updated monthly, annual COLA increases are determined by changes in the CPI-W during the one year period ending in the third quarter of the calendar year before the new COLA takes effect. For example, the 2017 COLA is based on inflation data for the year ending in the third quarter of 2016. It’s also important to remember that even if the CPI-W decreases, benefit payments to retirees cannot be cut. In the case of deflation, Social Security stipends for that year will simply remain the same as the year before.

Currently, the average retired worker receives monthly Social Security benefits of $1,355. With the 2017 COLA increasing by 0.3 percent, beneficiaries should expect an increase of about $4 monthly or about $48 per year. According to the SSA, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients currently receive an average of $540 in benefits per month, which will increase by about $1.60 in 2017. The updated COLA benefits will take effect between December 2016 and January 2017.

The Social Security Administration also announced that the maximum taxable earnings amount for benefits will increase by 7.3 percent, bumping the current maximum from $118,500 to $127,200. As a result of this increase and the 2017 COLA, the maximum possible Social Security benefit will also increase from $2,639 to $2,687. SSI payments will also be increasing by $2 for individuals and $3 for couples to a total of $735 per month.

Obviously, this isn’t exactly a major increase in benefits, and in fact is the smallest COLA percentage increase since the system was first developed in 1975. However, since last year there was no COLA for beneficiaries because there was zero inflation, the increase in benefits for 2017 is a step in a positive direction for the U.S. economy and retiree benefits.

OC Elder Law is a leading authority in all aspects of elder law and estate planning, including the drafting of wills and trusts. Our estate planning attorneys are proud to serve clients in Corona, Fullerton, Long Beach, Palm Desert and Palm Springs.

Estate Tax

estate-taxOn the issue of estate tax plans in this election year, the views that both candidates hold could not be more opposite. Donald Trump wants to completely repeal the estate tax, while Hillary Clinton is in favor of hiking the estate tax up to an astonishing 65%; a move which many have argued aims to resonate with supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders.

The current laws, which were finalized in 2013, require estates worth more than $5.45 million per person or $10.9 million for a mar
ried couple to pay 40% in taxes, while anything less is considered exempt.

Secretary Clinton has previously agreed with The Sensible Estate Tax Act of 2016, which would shave the estate tax minimum from $5.45 million down to $3.5 million, while adding a 5% increase on the current tax rate of 40%. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the proposal would raise $161 billion over the next ten years. However, Mrs. Clinton now wants to apply a 50% tax rate to estates worth over $10 million per person, 55% for estates exceeding $50 million, and 65% for estates beyond $500 million.

As one might expect, many estate planning attorneys have said that these enormous estates have the means to find ways around many of the rules in order to reduce the impact of tax liabilities on their estates. However, with the new stricter administrative guidelines that makes discounts rarer and worth less than before, that may not always be the case.

Avoiding the estate tax requires an in-depth process of pre-planning with an experienced estate planning attorney, and can be rather expensive to do correctly. Consequently, some people argue that Mrs. Clinton’s proposed estate tax hikes may be a bitter pill to swallow for some Americans after already paying income taxes for decades.

Further, not long ago President Obama proposed to completely eliminate basis step up, arguing that allowing it for income tax purposes on death was a huge loophole in the tax code. Essentially, a “stepped-up basis” on inherited assets means that the value of an asset “steps up” to the current value when inherited, no matter what the original buyer paid for it. Under current law, no capital gains tax is due on the increase in value of an asset from the time it was purchased until when it was passed on to an heir.

In combination with individual state estate taxes, the President’s proposal could yield some of the highest estate tax rates in the world, but would primarily affect households with very high incomes and could also generate billions of dollars in revenue. However, many Republican members of Congress argue that small business owners could be particularly affected since it’s difficult for many family businesses to stay afloat after the death of a key figure. Of course, these circumstances are quite varied.

It remains to be seen whether Secretary Clinton’s 50% to 65% estate tax rate proposals or Trump’s repeal of the estate tax helps either of them to secure more votes. Regardless, proponents of the estate tax argue that it helps to stop the rich from getting richer, but opponents claim that since income taxes must be paid on earnings that eventually make up the estate’s value it takes too much away from hard working Americans.

“House of Memories” Connects Alzheimer’s Patients to Their Pasts

house-of-memoriesA living history museum in Aarhus, Denmark has conjured up an incredible exhibit that stands out from the usual blacksmith shops. Tucked away in one corner of Den Gamle By (The Old Town) Museum is an entire apartment transported straight out of the 1950’s, affectionately referred to as the “House of Memories.”

This exhibit is not usually open to the public, and further is not aimed at the typical audience of children that were sent to the museum to learn about generations that came before them. Instead, the House of Memories is intended for visitors living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Residents from local nursing homes and other Alzheimer’s patients are greeted at the front door by a young woman in 1950’s apparel, who welcomes them inside while staying in character of a mid-century housewife. The hostess leads guests around the small apartment while pointing out and using vintage items, and encourages her audience’s participation. The museum interpreter, aka hostess, asks the guests open ended questions for more information on the items, as if she were a student in a classroom and all the museum visitors were her teachers.

Curator Tove Engelhardt Mathiassen furnished this apartment exhibit with unbelievable attention to detail. Everything in it is authentic 1950’s, whether it’s the coffee in the pantry, the furniture in the dining room, or even the electrical outlets. She even referenced home décor magazines to ensure paintings were hung at the proper height and era-appropriate houseplants were featured. As she says, “It’s a totality of sights and touch and smell which, in our experience, brings out their own memories.”

Dorthe Bentsen, who holds a doctorate in psychology and heads the Center on Autobiographical Memory Research at Aarhus University, agrees that there’s definitely science at play here. She says that for Alzheimer’s patients, memories from their teens and 20s – a period known as the “reminiscence bump”—are the best preserved. Although researchers don’t know exactly why this is the case, they also say it’s a fact that this “bump” exists. For many of the visitors, that period happens to fall in the 1950s.

Henning Lindberg, the man who came up with the House of Memories idea, says he’s witnessed dramatic transformations in the visitors as they explore, such as people talking for the first time in years or even forgetting to use their canes! Word about the effects of the exhibit on Alzheimer’s patients is spreading, and in fact there are already several other museums in Europe trying out the innovative model.

Lindberg says the main challenge for many of the institutions is the role of museum interpreter changing from explainer to listener, or even caregiver. For example, as our elder law attorneys know well, people with dementia sometimes become emotional and cry over seemingly insignificant things. Treating the sometimes fragile visitors with compassion and dignity is the museum’s main goal, and soon the House of Memories will be getting an upgrade to the 1960’s to provide even more people with this type of comfort.

At OC Elder Law, we know that deciding on senior housing and long term care options can be confusing and overwhelming. Our expert elder law attorneys are here to help you with personalized estate planning services and give you and your loved ones peace of mind. Contact us for a consultation today!

New Medicare Law to Help Close Nursing Home Cost Loophole

calculatingOver the years, our Elder Law Attorneys in Orange County and Corona have worked with several seniors who experienced urgent medical problems that sent them to the hospital. In
many such cases, after being kept at the hospital under observation for several days, a doctor recommends a short stay in a nursing home for rehabilitation.

Most of these patients assume that their Medicare coverage will pay for those unexpected nursing home costs. Unfortunately, thousands of seniors in this same situation are returning home to staggering bills for the entire amount of their nursing home stay. Due to a loophole in Medicare’s reimbursement policies, if patients are never formally admitted as an inpatient at the hospital, Medicare can decline to pay for any of their subsequent rehabilitative care.

But why aren’t patients being formally admitted to the hospital if they stay overnight and receive treatment? In many cases, hospitals are hesitant to admit Medicare patients for fear of being penalized by Medicare for unnecessary admissions. Instead, patients are kept in the hospital under “observation”; a distinction that makes a huge difference if that Medicare patient is later admitted to a skilled nursing facility for rehabilitation.

Medicare typically covers up to 100 days of rehabilitative care in a nursing home after surgery or other qualifying medical procedures. However, unless a patient has been formally admitted into a hospital for at least three days before being moved to a nursing home, Medicare will not cover the cost of the stay.

Time spent under observation does not count toward the three days, even though the patient may receive extensive treatment, including tests and medications ordered by a doctor. This leaves many patients without insurance coverage for their nursing home care, leading to thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs.

To help solve this problem, Congress passed The NOTICE Act with broad bipartisan support last year. The new law requires hospitals to notify patients that they have been placed under “observation status”, and that they may incur major out-of-pocket costs if they stay more than 24 hours without being formally admitted.

The purpose of the new Medicare Outpatient Observation Notice (MOON) is to provide transparency for patients who are unaware of their status and what that can mean for subsequent Medicare reimbursement. Also, the NOTICE Act will give patients the opportunity to speak with their doctors and request that they be formally admitted to the hospital, if that is indeed their wishes.

Several members of Congress, along with private citizens and elder law attorneys, are hoping to completely fix the problem by passing legislation that allows time spent in a hospital under observation to count the same as time spent formally admitted to a hospital for reimbursement purposes.

As Judith A. Stein, Executive Director of the nonprofit Center for Medicare Advocacy stated, “The new law is an important first step, but Congress and the administration need to do more to protect beneficiaries.”

Social Security Pays Over $100,000 in Benefits Owed to Homeless Woman

moneyFor over a decade, Wanda Witter lived on the streets of Washington D.C while waging a battle to prove that the Social Security Administration owed her more than $100,000. Before
becoming homeless and unemployed, she had worked as a machinist in New York. After losing that job, she obtained her certificate at a paralegal school and moved to the District of Columbia in search of work, but was unable to find any gainful employment.

Despite her challenges, Witter’s previous employment made her eligible for Social Security benefits. In 2006, when she finally applied for them, Witter noticed problems with her benefit checks. They ranged from between $300 to $900 a month, and outside of the inconsistencies she (correctly) calculated that the amounts were too small.

Instead of cashing the checks, Witter sent them back to the Social Security Administration. When later asked why she chose to return the checks considering her situation, she explained, If I just cashed them, who would believe me that they were wrong?”

Eventually, after sending several checks back as “Void” and without a fixed address or bank account due to her homelessness, the checks stopped coming altogether.

Broke and jobless, Wanda Witter roamed the streets of our nation’s capital with three suitcases stuffed full of Social Security paperwork that proved that the government agency owed her more than $100,000. For years, she slept in homeless shelters and on the streets, calling Social Security’s toll-free number, sending letters, and visiting with several homeless assistance offices. Unfortunately, no matter where she turned, Witter was always dismissed as a crazy homeless person that needed a mental health counselor, and not an estate planning attorney.

Luckily, in late 2015 Witter met a social worker who took the time to review the neatly organized paperwork she had been carrying around for all those years. The social worker saw that her Social Security payments were indeed inaccurate, and connected Witter to an attorney at the AARP’s Legal Counsel for the Elderly.

That attorney came to the same conclusion as Witter’s social worker, and was able to help her receive regular benefits of $1,464 a month, as well as a check for $99,999 as payment for the amount she was previously owed. This is the largest amount that the Social Security Administration can cut to get her the money quickly, but her new attorney believes that once all the paperwork is done, even more back payments will be coming to Witter soon.

As an experienced estate planning attorney in Corona, I can tell you that the Social Security Administration has been over burdened with massive budget cuts and hiring freezes for the last few years, making professional help in solving cases like Witter’s extremely important. If you believe that there may be problems with your Social Security benefits, make sure you contact an attorney immediately to help you handle your case.

At OC Elder Law, our experienced estate planning attorneys are here to help you with all aspects of elder law, including wills and trusts, veteran’s benefits, and Medi-Cal planning. Allow us to navigate you and your family to peace of mind by contacting us to request a consultation today.

Elderly Man Victimized by Thieving Spouse

old-manIn Montogomery County Alabama, an 81-year-old man who had once analyzed missile systems for the Air Force was faced with a unique crisis. His wife, whom he had wed only a few days prior, was being questioned by authorities who suspected that she was stealing his money.

That woman is Phanta Daramy, a nursing aide who had approached the man at a local grocery store only two weeks before detectives knocked on his door. She wasted no time in befriending the victim, and within just seven days had begun banking with him and married him.  At the time of the interview with authorities in the victim’s home, she had already stolen more than $50,000.

Some of the stolen money had been spent on jewelry, and authorities said Daramy also tried to steal an additional $80,000 from the victim but was blocked from the transaction by banking officials. Luckily, the victim’s savings of at least $150,000 hadn’t been touched, and will be kept safe by the victim’s lawyer who is now also serving as his financial guardian. The victim has also since been moved to an assisted living facility.

In May, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Anne K. Albright ordered Daramy to repay over $65,000 to the victim and sentenced her to two years in prison. During the court proceedings, Daramy declared her innocence by saying “Your honor, I have never stolen a dime from no one, ever.” She told the judge she loved her husband and said “I know and believe my husband” loves her in return.

Despite these claims, Daramy was convicted of exploitation of a vulnerable adult, exploitation of a vulnerable adult older than 68, and a theft scheme of more than $10,000.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this unique case is the speed and boldness in which Daramy successfully targeted and stole from her new husband. These events paint a vivid picture of just how aggressively thieves have begun to target the elderly. Unfortunately, as elder law attorneys we’ve seen many similar cases in which older people have been easily victimized because they are not only confused but living alone and craving company.

In this case, the victim had been diagnosed with dementia and depression due to the recent passing of his first wife, to whom he was married for more than 50 years. Elder abuse takes many forms, and unfortunately cases of financial abuse of this nature have become more commonplace as the average age of the U.S. population continues to increase.

Bob Blancato, national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition stated, “It’s all about vulnerability, and that’s why we’re so concerned about the isolation of older people.”  Indeed, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014 46 percent of women and 23 percent of men aged 75 years or older lived alone.

As experienced estate planning attorneys in Corona and Orange County, we are committed to protecting seniors in all aspects of life. Whether you need assistance in obtaining remedies for elder abuse or writing out your will and trust, OC Elder Law is here to help. Contact us to request a consultation today!

5 Celebrities Who Died Without Estate Plans

As estate planning attorneys in Corona and Orange County, we have worked with countless family members of people that passed away unexpectedly and intestate, or without a valid will or estate plan. We’ve seen firsthand the challenges that family members go through in not only handling their grief, but the deceased’s remaining assets when no probate avoidance planning has been done.

With Prince’s recent unexpected passing and the subsequent estate controversy all over the news, the general public is also getting a closer look at exactly what happens when a celebrity, or anyone for that matter, dies without having created a will. Prince, however, is not the first star to lack an estate plan at the time of their death.

We’ve compiled a short list of celebrities who did not have wills or trusts when they passed away, and the various problems the lack of planning caused for their heirs.

  • Jimi Hendrix – The legendary rock star’s entire estate went to his father, Al, who in turn left the nearly $74 million fortune to his own adopted daughter and completely cut his biological son out of the estate. Unsurprisingly, the son filed a lawsuit and he and Al’s daughter have faced off in court over the estate several times.
  • Billie Holiday – When the American jazz singer passed away in 1959 she was practically broke. Although she only had a few hundred dollars to her name when she died, her entire estate became the property of her estranged husband, entitling him to receive royalties from her work.
  • Bob Marley – The popular reggae singer passed away in 1981 after an eight-month battle with cancer, leaving behind a widow and nine children. In this case, although the conversation and process may be a bit morbid, any estate planning lawyer would advise terminally ill patients without a will to create one in preparation for the worst case scenario. After his death, the Marley family engaged in a series of bitter lawsuits over the $30 million estate that Bob left behind.
  • Amy Winehouse – The Grammy Award Winning star unexpectedly died at age 27, leaving behind an estate worth several million dollars and six music companies. Amy’s estate was handed over to her parents. Less than two years later, the music company assets were failing and her parents were forced to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to cover the cost of dealing with her financial affairs.
  • Tupac – After the rap star was gunned down at only 25 years old, his mother and estranged father engaged in a string of lawsuits and fights over royalties and his remaining estate. Since Tupac’s parents were not married, his father was only entitled to a share of the estate if he could prove that he had provided financial support. Tupac’s mother set up a trust to protect her son’s legacy, worth an estimated $40-50 million, earning around $1 million per year.

Our professional estate planning attorneys in Corona and Orange County have handled the planning of several multi-million dollar estates for clients all across California. Let us provide you and your family with the peace of mind that comes with personalized estate planning with our team of elder law experts. Contact us today to get started!

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