Interactive Robots for Seniors?

two artificial intelligence robotsArtificial intelligence and the elderly may seem like an unlikely pair, but tech companies are seeing a potential for AI services with seniors as the primary target market. Tech and robotics companies and even the auto industry are looking into how robots can enhance the quality of life for senior citizens, especially those who live alone and at risk for isolation, loneliness and depression. Among these companies is Israeli-based tech company Intuition Robotics which recently raised 14 million for the development of ElliQ, a social companion robot. One of their investors is Toyota, which, along with IBM, is among the largest companies investing in AI and robotics for the benefit of older users.

The idea first came to Intuition Robotics CEO Dor Skuler who noticed that his kids were more likely to send their selfies to Grandma and preferred this method of interaction than talking on the phone. In an interview with CNN Money, the CEO concluded that ElliQ will allow kids like his to have more interactions with their grandparents, and vice versa.

Aside from enhancing communication, the program is designed to assist caregivers by giving reminders for medications, doctors’ appointments, and activity schedules. The program can even give out personalized suggestions for activity to help keep seniors engaged and keep boredom at bay.

While all of these look attractive on paper, our estate planning attorneys in Corona can tell you firsthand that the elderly are generally averse to using technology of any kind around the home. To solve this problem Intuition’s research team has looked into form factors that seniors are more comfortable with. Their studies have shown that robots that look like humans might seem a bit strange for elder users, and so they have opted to design robots that do not look like humans. These robots will also be programmed to perform specific tasks, very similar to common household appliances like a refrigerator or the dishwasher. For example, ElliQ is designed to sit on a desk and it’s primary function is to facilitate communication and give reminders. It also allows quick and easy sending of texts and photos. This is in line with similar approaches done by other companies like Blue Frog Robotics which designed their robots to look like robots from pop culture such as Wall-E and Star Wars.

However, while humanoid-robots are not the best choice for elderly companions, Hasbro has stumbled on a promising strategy that involves realistic robotic pets after it noticed a surge in positive reviews for FurReal toys, robotic toys initially designed for ages 4-8. They found out that more people are buying these toys for elderly loved ones, primarily because they provided interactive companionship. These toys also required little maintenance unlike real pets, and can be used by seniors living in homes and communities that did not allow pets. Hasbro released their Joy for All Companion Pets, a cat and a Retriever in 2015 and 2016. Both pets are designed without connectivity options to the Internet and do not have screens, but instead are made to look and feel like real pets.

Outside robotics, other companies are looking into AI that can control smart environments for seniors. IBM researchers are currently doing a project that involves tracking different factors of an elderly person’s daily activities and habits to create a better understanding of a senior individual’s environment.

Artificial intelligence and robotics can offer significant improvements in the quality of life and the delivery of health services to seniors. However, for aging potential users to take full advantage of these improvements, researchers must first learn how to win this target demographic over.

As part of our work as estate planning attorneys, we feel a responsibility to keep the public informed on issues that directly relate to senior citizens and the elderly. If there’s a topic you would like us to feature in our weekly blog posts; email us at info@ocelderlaw.com today!

Congress Considering Abolishing Time Limit To Use GI Bill

silhouette of American soldiers boarding a shipLater this month, Congress is expected to consider an updated GI Bill that abolishes the time limit veterans currently have to use their educational benefits. The new bill also increases the number of veterans who qualify for educational benefits.

The current GI Bill, passed in 2008, allows post 9/11 veterans with at least three years of active duty service to receive full tuition to attend a public university, or an equivalent sum of money toward tuition at a private institution. This benefit must be used or transferred to a dependent child within 15 years or it is lost forever.

The new bill, officially named the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 after the author of the original GI Bill in 1944, abolishes the 15-year window for recruits who enlist after January 1, 2018. Veterans who enlisted before that date would still need to use their educational benefits in the 15-year time frame specified by the previous legislation.

The updated GI Bill would also expand the pool of veterans who qualify for the educational assistance program. The old law denied benefits to Purple Heart recipients who failed to hit the three-year service benchmark, even if their abbreviated service time was the direct result of active duty injury. Aleks Morosky, Legislative Director of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, estimates that between 1,500 and 2,000 Purple Heart recipients were denied educational benefits for this reason. The new law would allow Purple Heart recipients to claim educational benefits reg

ardless of how much service time they completed. In addition, members of the National Guard and reservists who were involuntarily called into active service would qualify for educational benefits under the proposed legislation. The current law omits both groups.

Finally, the updated GI Bill would allow veterans to reclaim benefits lost due to factors outside of their control. For example, a veteran lost his or her education benefits if they were used on a private institution that closed before they finished their degree. The new law would allow the same individual to transfer to a different institution or even hold onto them for future use. Benefits transferred to a dependent child would also be transferable to a second child upon the first’s death, something that is not currently permissible under the 2008 law.

The new bill is expected to be introduced to the House Veterans Affairs Committee by Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, its current chair, at some point this month. Senator Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, plans to introduce a companion bill in the Senate. The bill would need to pass both chambers of Congress and be signed into law by President Donald Trump before taking effect.

The proposed legislation enjoys strong bipartisan support, leading many to speculate that the bill will easily pass both chambers of Congress. For instance, Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minnesota) praised the bill as an expansion of the “best program to ever come out of Congress.” The prospective legislation has also been universally lauded by veterans advocacy groups as a fix to the many perceived problems with the 2008 version of the bill.

In conclusion, veterans will enjoy added flexibility in when they can use their GI Bill educational benefits if the proposed bill becomes law. More veterans will also qualify to receive GI Bill benefits.

OC Elder Law is an estate planning firm in Fullerton, Long Beach and Corona, that specializes in maximizing veterans benefits. If there is a topic relating to veterans, estate planning, or elder law that you would like us to feature in our blog, send us an email at info@ocelderlaw.com.

9 Questions to Ask Before You Hire an Estate Planning Attorney

an attorney reading a law bookChoosing an estate planning attorney is a big decision. Follow these nine steps to ensure that your estate is executed the way you want it to be.

  1. How much do you charge?

Estate planning attorneys may charge a flat fee, or they may charge by the hour, so you should ask how you will be billed up front. Flat fees may not cover all of the services the attorney can provide, so be sure to inquire if any services will cost extra before you engage them.

  1. Do you have an update program?

Some estate planning attorneys complete the necessary paperwork and consider their job completed. This could turn into a problem for you if laws change before you pass away. Ask if you can be informed of any legal changes as they happen to ensure that your plan is executed correctly.

  1. How much experience do you have?

Experienced estate attorneys have an opportunity to fine tune the paperwork they provide after seeing it in action for past clients. You won’t be around to personally supervise the execution of your paperwork, so an experienced attorney is a great way to guarantee that it works as intended.

  1. Will you help me set up a revocable living trust?

Assets must be transferred to a revocable living trust before you die in order to be distributed according to your final wishes. The transfer process is actually pretty complicated, so it may be worth paying a little extra for an attorney who will guide you through every step of the process.

  1. Whom should I appoint as Power of Attorney?

Whoever you grant Power of Attorney to will have unrestricted access to your finances, so they should not have any financial troubles of their own. Ideally, your Power of Attorney will have financial management skills to keep everything in order.

  1. Are there any estate taxes to consider?

Estate taxes will vary by state, so it is best to engage a local attorney familiar with your local laws. Taxes should always be considered when deciding who to give what.

  1. Who should I appoint in my Advance Directive?

Your Advance Directive dictates who will make medical decisions on your behalf when you cannot, as well as an alternate if the first person is unavailable. Both individuals should be people you can trust to act according to your wishes.

  1. Who will get any assets I do not specify a recipient for?

In general, any property with another name on the account will go to that individual, and will not get split up between all of your beneficiaries. Otherwise, property will be split evenly between your closest living family members, even those you did not have a relationship with. If you do not want your assets distributed in this way, an estate planning attorney is your only recourse.

  1. What are the consequences of placing my child’s name on my account?

Any assets at least partially in your child’s name are fair game if they become involved in a divorce or debt settlement. If you place their name on your account, those funds could be lost to you through no fault of your own.

The attorneys at OC Elder Law try our best to keep the public informed about issues related to elder law and estate planning in Orange County, Corona and Long Beach. If you have a topic you would like us to cover in our blog, email it to us at info@ocelderlaw.com.

Proposed Medicaid Cuts

On June 22, 2017, the Senate Republicans, who have promised a repeal of the Obamacare over the last seven years, unveiled a 142-page bill that intends to redefine the government’s involvement in America’s health care sector and in effect, fulfill their promise to fix the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Written largely in secret, the legislation would scrap the minimum essential coverage (MEC), eliminate taxes on the wealthy, make massive cuts in Medicaid and defund Planned Parenthood. At the same time, it would allow states to drop many of the benefits mandated by Obamacare, including mental health treatment, maternity care and emergency services.

In particular, the Senate bill proposes the following amendments to Obamacare:

Medicaid

The legislation would retain the enhanced Medicaid expansion funding from Obamacare until 2021 and then phase out the funding over a three-year period. By comparison, the House bill, which passed in May 2017, would lend funding for this program in 2020. The longer timeframe offered by the Senate bill is likely a move to appease and compromise GOP senators who support Medicaid. However, the Senate bill would make deep funding cuts to the program and starting 2025, would base the funding allocation formula on standard inflation rather than medical inflation, which is more generous. Because of the funding cut, states will likely cut enrollment, provider payments or benefits.

Pre-existing conditions

Although the legislation would compel insurers to cover patients with pre-existing conditions, it would allow states to waive the essential health benefits. This means that, while the bill would prohibit insurers from basing their premiums on consumers’ medical history, patients with pre-existing conditions may still be unable to get comprehensive coverage because insurers may be able to create less comprehensive insurance for such patients.

The President’s Support

Although President Trump praised the bill following its unveiling, the President acknowledged that the bill would likely undergo some changes. Like Trump, GOP Sen. John McCain, who has been critical of the secrecy surrounding the creation of the legislation, was happy with the bill. According to the senator, the bill is better than Obamacare in “100 ways.”

Unhappy GOP Senators

Despite the President’s approval of the legislation, some GOP senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Rand Paul of Kentucky, were hesitant to vote for the bill due to various reasons. In a joint statement, the senators aid that, in its current form, the bill was unlikely to fulfill the Republicans’ promise to repeal Obamacare and lower the cost of health care in America. Additionally, Dean Heller, the senator of Nevada, said that he was deeply concerned about the impact of the bill on his constituents who rely on Medicaid, and that he would only vote for the bill if it is good for Nevada.

Unlike the health bill passed by the House in May 2017, which President Trump has since called “mean,” the Senate bill offers more financial incentives to low-income earners to help them afford health insurance. However, like the House bill, it would defund state mandated benefits geared towards expanding the eligibility for Medicaid, as well as create a budget for the entire Medicaid program, meaning Medicaid would no longer be an open-ended entitlement. Furthermore, the bill would eliminate virtually all the tax increases imposed by the Obamacare, which means it would lower the tax burden for the high-income earners.

As Orange County estate planning attorneys, we use our blog to keep the public informed on topics that closely impact our community’s senior citizens. Is there a topic you would like us to cover? Drop us a line at info@ocelderlaw.com!