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PATTI'S BLOG

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Social Security COLA to Rise 1.7% in 2013

There’s news abounding for 2012 coming from the Social Security Administration (SSA) including increases to the cost of living adjustment (COLA), a rise in what seniors pay for Medicare Part B, and new wage limits workers must meet before the Social Security tax of 6.2 percent stops as a deduction from paychecks.

Here's how it works: By law, most Medicare enrollees can't be charged a Part B premium that produces a net reduction in Social Security benefits. Assuming the Social Security and Medicare percentages come in as forecast, this "hold harmless" feature would protect seniors with Social Security benefits of $625 or lower, according to SCL.

Seniors with higher benefits would see a small inflation raise. A senior with a $1,000 monthly benefit would see a 0.48 percent net increase after the Part B adjustment; for a $1,500 monthly benefit, the net COLA would be 0.79 percent.

The hold-harmless provision doesn't protect three groups of beneficiaries: high-income seniors, new enrollees in Medicare this year , and low-income seniors who are eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. High-income beneficiaries include individuals with annual income starting at $85,000 (single filers) or $170,000 (joint filers), and move up from there.This group pays full freight on the Part B premium, plus an income-based surcharge. And the surcharges aren't limited to Part B: Extra premiums also are charged for prescription drug plans (Part D) and Medicare Advantage plans (Part C).

For more information follow the link below:

http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/the-best-life/2012/10/16/social-security-cola-to-rise-17-in-2013

 


Monday, November 26, 2012

IRS Issues Long-Term Care Premium Deductibility Limits for 2013

IRS Issues Long-Term Care Premium Deductibility Limits for 2013

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is increasing the amount taxpayers can deduct from their 2013 taxes as a result of buying long-term care insurance.

Premiums for “qualified” long-term care insurance policies (see explanation below) are tax deductible to the extent that they, along with other unreimbursed medical expenses (including Medicare premiums), exceed 7.5 percent of the insured’s adjusted gross income. This threshold is rising to 10 percent on January 1, 2013, although it will remain at 7.5 percent for taxpayers 65 and older through 2016.

These premiums — what the policyholder pays the insurance company to keep the policy in force — are deductible for the taxpayer, his or her spouse and other dependents. (If you are self-employed, the tax-deductibility rules are a little different: You can take the amount of the premium as a deduction as long as you made a net profit; your medical expenses do not have to exceed a certain percentage of your income.)

However, there is a limit on how large a premium can be deducted, depending on the age of the taxpayer at the end of the year. Following are the deductibility limits for 2013. Any premium amounts for the year above these limits are not considered to be a medical expense.

Attained age before the close of the taxable year Maximum deduction for year
40 or less $360
More than 40 but not more than 50 $680
More than 50 but not more than 60 $1,360
More than 60 but not more than 70 $3,640
More than 70 $4,550

Another change announced by the IRS involves benefits from per diem or indemnity policies, which pay a predetermined amount each day.  These benefits are not included in income except amounts that exceed the beneficiary’s total qualified long-term care expenses or $320 per day (for 2013), whichever is greater. (The 2012 limit was $310.)

What Is a “Qualified” Policy?

To be “qualified,” policies issued on or after January 1, 1997, must adhere to certain requirements, among them that the policy must offer the consumer the options of “inflation” and “nonforfeiture” protection, although the consumer can choose not to purchase these features. Policies purchased before January 1, 1997, will be grandfathered and treated as “qualified” as long as they have been approved by the insurance commissioner of the state in which they are sold.

The Georgetown University Long-Term Care Financing Project has a two-page fact sheet, “Tax Code Treatment of Long-Term Care and Long-Term Care Insurance.” To download it in PDF format, go to: http://ltc.georgetown.edu/pdfs/taxcode.pdf


Monday, November 12, 2012

Seniors Beware: How Much Salt are you Eating?

      Just like with most things in life, salt is best in moderation. Salt has been around for thousands of years and has served multiple purposes from being a means to preserve meats to adding flavor to a dish. But did you know that too much salt can create health problems including high blood pressure and heart disease? It is not just the french fries or the potato chips that we have to watch out for, but items that are packadged and heavy card-based.  On National Eating Healthy Day, the American Heart Association developed a list of six items that we should be mindful of consuming because of their above average levels of sodium. Please click the link to find out what are the 'Salty Six'.

 

http://seniorjournal.com/NEWS/Nutrition-Vitamins/2012/20121107-Seniors_Take_Heed.htm


Monday, January 9, 2012

Happy 2012! Make Getting Your Affairs in Order Your Goal for the New Year

 

Each year, I make a list of goals that I want to accomplish for the year.  Some years, the goals have a theme – unfortunately, the theme is almost always the same:  lose weight, exercise more. . .

This year, I’m challenging you to make one of your New Year’s goals to get your estate planning affairs in order.  This is one goal that is easy to accomplish – I promise!

Here are 5 easy steps you can take to accomplish this goal.

1.         Get educated about estate planning.  Attend an estate planning workshop or two.  Estate planning attorneys like me are always giving seminars and workshops to educate people about estate planning.  Yes, these workshops help attorneys attract clients, but the goal of these workshops is really to educate people about the basics of estate planning so clients can have meaningful conversations and can make thoughtful decisions about their own estates. 

2.         Review your old documents.  Do you have a will or trust?  Advanced Directives or Healthcare Powers of Attorney and Living Wills?  Do you have a Durable Financial Power of Attorney?  How old are your documents?  If your wills name guardians for your children who are now 30 years old, your documents are definitely out of date.  Did you name an executor who is now dead or is your ex-wife named as your executor?  Probably time to revise your will. 

            What about your health care documents? If they were done in Georgia before 2007, you may want to update them to the Advance Health Care Directive that went into effect in 2007.  Who have you named to make healthcare decisions for you?  Is that person still the right person to make decisions for you?           

3.         Look at the ownership of all of your accounts.  How is your bank account titled?  Title indicates who owns the account.  Are you the sole owner or is it a joint account?  Who is the joint owner and is this someone who should be a joint owner of your account?  Here’s a link to a blog I wrote last year about the pros and cons of joint ownership of accounts:  http://bit.ly/xm8W5o

4.         Check the beneficiary designations of your accounts.  The beneficiary is the person who would receive the proceeds of the account at your death.  Is the beneficiary your estate?  If so, why did you make your estate the beneficiary?  Having your estate as the beneficiary pretty much ensures that your estate will have to be probated.  Is your beneficiary under the age of 18 or someone with special needs?  It may not be the best thing to give someone under the age of 18 a large inheritance.  Although the court will put protections in place for those under 18, those protections can be expensive and once the beneficiary has their 18th birthday, the money is all theirs – to spend however they wish. Yikes!

             If the beneficiary has special needs, a gift may mean they lose governmental benefits.

            Distributions from IRA’s and 401(k)’s have income tax consequences, so have you considered how your beneficiary designations will affect the tax liability of your beneficiaries?

5.         Make an appointment with an estate planning lawyer, a CPA and your financial advisor.  A good, comprehensive plan involves a group of professionals who can guide  and counsel you in making decisions about your estate. 

Will you accept thechallenge to make getting your New Years Goal getting your affairs in order?

Here's to a great new year!

 


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Traditions: Really Check in With Your Neighbors and Relatives

On Friday night, we gathered with neighbors old and new to celebrate a cherished tradition – our annual progressive dinner.  Traditionally, we begin the year.  We find out about the new babies, weddings and graduations to come.  We learn what colleges the children will attend, and where soon-to-be college graduates will start their careers.  We also check in on aging neighbors to find out about their health scares, their difficulties, the loss of their loved ones.  After moving from house to house for salads, and main courses, we end up with more wine and sweet treats to reminisce about dinners past.  How many have we had?  No one can remember.  But by the end of the evening, we’re looking forward to next year’s dinner, and assigning tasks to make it happen.

Continuing this tradition is important to my family and my neighborhood because it allows us to connect with our neighbors, to get to know them when times are good so that we can help each other when times are not so good.  Without our traditional yearly gathering, we might not realize when our neighbors need our help.

In my practice, I see many people who see their aging or ill family members and friends at the holidays and realize that all is not well.  Sometimes, all has not been well for so long that those family members are now in crisis.

If you are visiting family members who are aging or ill, take the time to talk with them to find out about their health.  Are they seeing a doctor?  What medications are they taking?  How do they keep track of their medications on a daily basis?  Ask them if they have a healthcare proxy or advance directive for healthcare?  Who will make healthcare decisions for them if they are not able?

Although it can be difficult to have a conversation with parents about their finances, ask them if they have appointed someone to make financial decisions for them if they are not able.  Look around the house and see if there are stacks of unopened bills.  Find out if they have long-term care insurance.  Ask where their important financial and legal documents can be found.  If they haven’t appointed anyone to make decisions for them, urge them to do that while they still can.

If your aging family members are still driving, ride with them to see if they are still able to drive safely.  Are they stopping at the stop signs?  Do they forget to look before making a turn?  Do they still remember how to get to places they have been to many times before or do they forget where they are going?  If they are having trouble driving, would a driving school help?  Or, can you help them find transportation so they won’t need to drive anymore?

With married couples, try to talk with each one alone.  Sometimes couples get so good at covering for each other, you don’t realize that one of them might be suffering from dementia.  If one of the couple is ailing, find out how the well spouse is coping.  Is he or she eating and sleeping right?  Is he or she getting help in the home so he or she can get out to see friends, or just get some time to rest and recharge?

Look in the refrigerator, freezer and cupboard.  Is the food in the refrigerator or cupboards moldy or out of date?  Are they going to the grocery store on a regular basis?  If you suspect that they are not eating right, is there a meals-on-wheels program that they might qualify for?

I hope that you will enjoy holiday traditions with family, friends, and neighbors this year.  Will you take time to talk with your family and friends to see whether they might need help in the coming year?

Happy Holidays!

Patti Elrod-Hill

 

 

 

 


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Medicare: Treat it as Part of Your Financial Plan

 


Medicare changed things up a bit this year by scheduling open enrollment early.  Because Medicare is in the news, I’ve been getting a lot of calls from clients to ask me about Medicare. While most people understand that they can become eligible for Medicare when they turn 65, they wonder about the types of Medicare plans available, and what plan they should choose.  Today, we’ll talk a little bit about the basics of Medicare, and about how to choose a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan.

Here is the basic Medicare alphabet:

Medicare Part A covers hospital insurance that can help pay for inpatient care at hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, hospice, and home health care.

Medicare Part B covers medically-necessary service such as doctor’s services, outpatient care, home health services, and some other services.  You will pay a premium to be covered by Part B.

Medicare Part C is a Medicare Advantage Plan.

Medicare Part D is the prescription drug coverage.

In order to become eligible for Medicare, you must be age 65, or you must have been receiving Social Security Disability benefits for 24 months.  Most people who are on Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits will automatically get Medicare Part A and B starting on the first day they turn 65, or when they have completed the full 24 months after beginning to receive Social Security Disability.  One exception is that if you have ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease- you are eligible for Part A and B in the month your disability begins.

Every year, for those who are qualified for Medicare, there is an open enrollment time when you have the ability to sign up for a new Medicare Part C or Part D plan. 

Normally, the open enrollment period begins in January.  However, this year the open enrollment period began on October 15 and ends on December 7.  If you want to know when to enroll in Social Security Part A and Part B, and when to enroll in Part C and Part D here is a handy chart:  http://www.medicare.gov/Publications/Pubs/pdf/11219.pdf

Medicare Part D is probably the most confusing of the Medicare Alphabet Programs.  Medicare Part D is the program that offers prescription drug coverage to those who are qualified for Medicare.  In order to get the drug coverage, an eligible person must join a plan.  The plans are run by private insurers or other private companies approved by Medicare.

Medicare Part D is available if you are otherwise-eligible for Medicare A & B.  If you don’t enroll in Part D when you become eligible, you might have to pay a slight penalty when you do join at a later date.  You can enroll in two basic types of plans:  Medicare Prescription Plans or Medicare Advantage Plans.  The Medicare Advantage Plans are usually HMO’s or PPO’s that give you all of your Part A and B coverage, and in addition may give you drug coverage.  If you choose another Part D plan while already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan that offers a drug plan, you may become disenrolled from your HMO or PPO plan and returned to regular Medicare.

How can you choose the right Medicare Part D plan?  The plans are run by private insurance plans, or private companies, and the cost of the plan is generally based on the prescriptions you use, the “formulary” of the plan, and whether you go to a pharmacy that is within your plan’s network.  The formulary is the list of drugs that a Medicare plan covers.

The Medicare.gov website is full of information about the plans that are available, and is also full of advice on how to choose a plan.  To choose a plan, you can enter your zip code and your prescriptions in the formulary finder on Medicare’s website.  http://plancompare.medicare.gov/pfdn/PlanFinder/DrugSearch.  The plan finder will then give you a list of providers and will tell you the cost of the plan and the cost of the drugs.  You can then call the providers with any questions you might have.

Erica Dumpel, with Czajkowski Dumpel & Associates, Inc. http://cdainc.net/ an experienced healthcare plan advisor, emphasizes that you should research the plans on a yearly basis.  If you have a number of prescriptions, hunting down the right plan can take a lot of time – but can also save you a significant amount of money each year. 

If you miss this year’s open enrollment period, or if you decide not to change plans, be sure to put a reminder on your calendar to review your plan again next year.  In fact, I recommend that you schedule a yearly financial and legal checkup, which should include a thorough review of all of your insurance premiums, co-pays and prescription costs.

Will you start treating your Medicare Plan as part of your Financial Plan?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Paying for Long-term Care: VA Benefits for Surviving Spouses

When she was approaching her 85th birthday, Sarah began to worry.  Until that time, she believed she had plenty of money to last through her lifetime.  Now, she saw her life’s savings slipping away.

Read more . . .


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Minor Guardianships: Letters of Instruction In Case of the Unimaginable

Writing Instructions to Potential Guardians

 

If you have minor children, or children with disabilities, the thought of leaving them suddenly is unimaginable.  Parents know their children- their schedules, their health, their likes and dislikes- but keep most of that knowledge in their heads.  When my kids were growing up, I knew when they needed to be at soccer practice and church, who their doctor was and how to reach her, and how to tell when they were sick.  Other than abbreviations on my calendar and names in my database, there was no formal written schedule of activities or list of important contacts.

Most parents can’t imagine how someone would be able to step in and take care of their children.  It is difficult to comprehend that someone else would have to figure out your children’s complicated schedule, let alone how to raise your child with the values you want them to have.

One of the ways you can help someone who might have to take over for you is to create a letter of instruction for a potential guardian.  What should go in that letter?  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Healthcare Information

The letter should include a detailed guide to your child’s healthcare, including vaccination records, contact information for their physicians and dentists, information about any allergies or prescriptions.  Note which pharmacy you have used in the past, and any over-the-counter medications your child uses on a regular basis.

2.  Your child’s Preferred Activities and the Important People who help with those activities

Although your children’s schedules will change monthly and yearly, the letter could include information about the activities your child enjoys, contact information for coaches, scout leaders and church youth leaders.  You might include a sample of the weekly, monthly or yearly schedule you and your family currently follow.  If your child goes to a summer camp, include information about deadlines for registering for camp.

3.  How to find Important Papers

The letter should include instructions on where to find the child’s birth certificate and passport, and should include the child’s social security number and a copy of the social security card.

4.  Religious Philosophy

If you practice a religion, include instructions on your religious philosophy along with contact information for the church you attend.  Let the potential guardian know if you would like your child to continue to be involved in the religion you practice, or whether you would like your child to accompany the guardian to their religious activities.

5.  Educational Philosophy

Discuss your thoughts and hopes for your child’s education.  Do you want your child to go to public or private school?  What are your plans for secondary education for your child?

6.  Family Tree and Other Important People

List all of the important people in your child’s life – and include contact information for those people.  If you nominate a person who is not a family member, will they know who your family is and how to reach them?  Let the guardian know if it is important for your child to be able to spend time with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other important people.   

7.   Things that Comfort

What does your child like to do when he or she is upset, unhappy or frightened?  Do they have a special toy or piece of clothing?  Do you read a certain book to them or play music?  Do they have any pets that they rely on for comfort?

8.  Food Likes and Dislikes

Maybe the guardian won’t want to fix macaroni and cheese every night, but they may wonder why your child won’t eat what they fix for dinner.  Let them know any food preferences – as well as quirky food habits.  Be sure to mention any food allergies your child has and any reactions they’ve had to foods in the past.

Of course, this list is just a suggestion for some basic points you might want to cover.  Remember that the information in the letter will need to be updated on a regular basis as your child grows and changes.  If the letter is never needed, you will have a great written record of your child’s life that you can give them when they are adults and don’t remember that they refused to eat anything but hot dogs and used to love to cuddle with Winnie the Pooh when they were sad!

 

 

 


Monday, October 24, 2011

Naming Guardians for Minor Children

 

 

Phew!  I’ve reached that point in life where I can relax – not much, but a little- because both of my children are adults and, for the most part, out of the nest.  Until just a couple of years ago, I broke out in a sweat every time I had to go out of town on business by myself.  Not only did I worry about whether my kids would get fed, get their homework done and make it to soccer practice on time, but I also worried about what would happen to them if I had an accident and didn’t make it home. 

If you have minor children, children under the age of 18, I’m sure you worry about that, too.  If you are not around, who will feed them, help them with their homework and get them to soccer practice?

Choosing someone to care for your children is difficult.  No one will care for and love your children the way you do, and, as far as I know, we can’t clone you.  However, if you don’t choose someone to raise your children if you’re not there, the probate court will have to make that choice and the court may not choose someone that you would like to raise your children. 

The only way to nominate a guardian in Georgia is in a will.  However, many people put off doing their estate plan because this choice is so difficult.  Here are a few tips for choosing guardians for your children.

First, make a list of everyone you would trust to take care of your children.  When making this list, don’t restrict yourself to the obvious choices.  Remember that if you choose no one, your children could end up in foster care.  If you had the choice of this person or foster care, would you choose this person?  If so, put them on the list. 

Most people limit their list to family members – parents and siblings- but think about your extended family.  Maybe your aunts, cousins, nieces or nephews would be good choices.  Try to think about whether their philosophy about raising children is similar to yours.

Second, would any of these people truly love your children?  Would they raise the children with the religious, social, and moral values that you would like?

Third, look at the personality.  Are they affectionate?  Good role models?

Fourth, be practical.  Would raising children hamper their lifestyle?  If a couple divorced, or one died, would you choose either one of them?

Fifth, look for someone who’s good, not necessarily perfect.  Remember, as we discussed above, you cannot be cloned.

Sixth, talk to everyone you are thinking of naming.  Make sure they are willing to serve, and explain what will be required of them.  Let them know that they should tell you now if they do not want to be nominated as a guardian of your children.

Finally, above all, make sure that you are the one that makes the choice – not the court.

In the next blog post, we’ll talk about writing letters of instruction for guardians.

 

 

 


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Protecting People with Special Needs: Guardianship of Young Adults


Most parents are conflicted when their children reach their 18th birthday.  For many families, that means their child will soon be leaving home for college, a new job, or the military.  For parents of children with developmental disabilities, it can be very scary when that child turns 18, because the law presumes an 18-year-old is an adult with the legal rights and responsibilities that come with adulthood.  When a child turns18, the parent no longer has the legal authority to make decisions for that child.

Joshua, a good-looking young man with a developmental disability, turned 18 six months ago.  Josh is friendly and outgoing.  They say he never met a stranger.  Josh, who functions intellectually on the level of a second grader, has been known to give his lunch money away on more than one occasion.  Josh does not tell his parents when he is feeling sick, and once cut his arm and used the wall to stop the bleeding. His parents came to me because they are conflicted about whether to seek guardianship of Josh.

Guardianship is a legal relationship created by a court. The guardian has the legal authority to make decisions about the healthcare and living arrangements of another person, called a ward.  The guardian also has the duty to look out for the welfare of the ward.  The relationship is very much like that of parent and child, where the law presumes that the ward is not able to make his or her own decisions about his or her healthcare or living arrangements.

Whether to seek a guardianship can be a difficult decision because parents want their children to gain independence, to learn to function in the world on their own and to make their own decisions.  When someone becomes a ward, they lose the legal ability to make healthcare decisions, to choose where to live, to enter into contracts, and to marry. 

Guardianship in Georgia is granted if the adult “lacks significant capacity to make or communicate significant responsible decisions” about his or her health or safety.  In order to decide whether to grant a guardianship, the court reviews a petition filed by the proposed guardian, appoints a professional to evaluate the proposed ward, and then holds a hearing in the courthouse to gather evidence about the decision-making ability of the proposed ward.

Josh’s parents ultimately decided that they need to become Josh’s guardians in order to continue to make decisions about his healthcare and where he lives, but also to ensure that he would not be enticed into signing any contracts that might bind him to spending money he doesn’t have.  Although they would like for Josh to get married some day, I explained that they can petition the court if and when Josh meets the right person and they believe he is mature enough to marry.

Please give our office a call if you have questions about whether you might need to seek guardianship of a young adult.

Next week, we’ll talk about when guardianship of minors, when that  might be necessary and how to choose guardians for your minor children.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Caring for Children with Special Needs: Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011

 Caring for Children with Special Needs

Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011

You can’t turn on the television or radio without hearing about the negotiations – or lack of negotiations- in Congress regarding the looming budget crisis.  We are all concerned about whether our elected representatives in Washington can come to a compromise that will help the country out of the current debt crisis.  Of great concern to those of us who work with families who have family members with special needs is whether, and how, the few programs left to support these families will be affected.

Assuming Congress gets through these negotiations and gets back to work on other  important issues, Congress has the opportunity to address a significant issue that the United States faces today.  That issue is that the number of persons diagnosed as being on the Autism spectrum is increasing at an alarming rate.  It is estimated that 1.5 million Americans are currently on the Autism spectrum.  That number is expected to increase by 10-17% annually. 

A growing concern is that the number of autistic children entering adulthood is also increasing rapidly.   By 2023, the number of autistic children entering adulthood is estimated to be 380,000.  The cost of care for these adults is said to be around $27 million, or about the budget of the state of Tennessee. 

On August 3, 2011, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) is scheduled to meet for hearings on the Reauthorization of the Combating Autism Act, originally passed in 2006.  The Combating Autism Act allocated $950 million dollars over the five year period for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other governmental agencies to conduct research on the autism spectrum.  The Act required the Director of NIH to develop and implement a strategic plan for autism research.  If the Act is not reauthorized by September 30, 2011, the federal commitment will disappear.

The current bill, named the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA), would allocate the federal funding of $1billion and create a National Institute of Spectrum Disorders Research within the NIH.

If CARA is not passed, research on the spectrum will likely be thrown into disorder.  We cannot afford to let this bill die.  Research into the reasons for the disorders on the spectrum, and especially research into treatment and therapies, is crucial. 

If you would like to find out more about CARA, and how you might be able to help make sure this Act is passed, see http://www.autismvotes.org/site/c.frKNI3PCImE/b.6376831/k.ACFC/CARA.htm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Elrod-Hill Law Firm,LLC assists clients with Estate Planning, Veterans Benefits, Medicaid, Elder Care Law, Probate, Special Needs Planning and Pet Trusts in the North Atlanta area including the counties of Dekalb, Gwinnett and Fulton.



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