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Estate Planning

Friday, February 28, 2014

FIDUCIARY APPOINTMENTS BY THE VA

What is a Fiduciary and why does the VA want to appoint one for my dad?

George, a veteran of WWII who now lives in an assisted living facility, applied for Improved Pension with Aid & Attendance.  After a few months, the VA sent him a letter explaining that George had been awarded the Pension, but would not receive his retroactive check until the VA determined whether he was competent to handle his affairs and whether the VA should appoint a fiduciary to manage his checks. What is a Fiduciary and why does the VA want to appoint one for my dad?

George, a veteran of WWII who now lives in an assisted living facility, applied for Improved Pension with Aid & Attendance.  After a few months, the VA sent him a letter explaining that George had been awarded the Pension, but would not receive his retroactive check until the VA determined whether he was competent to handle his affairs and whether the VA should appoint a fiduciary to manage his checks. 

Often veterans or their surviving spouses applying for VA Pension or Compensation benefits have some mental disease or injury that affects their ability to manage their financial affairs.  Before the VA will issue payment, the VA wants to know that if the veteran or spouse cannot manage the money they receive from the VA, someone trustworthy will be able to manage their money for them. 

The VA may appoint an individual or a corporation to serve as a fiduciary, or may authorize someone who has been appointed by a court to serve as a fiduciary.  A fiduciary is a person or legal entity that has been appointed by the VA to receive VA funds on behalf of a beneficiary for the use and benefit of the beneficiary and his/her dependents.  See A Guide for VA Fiduciaries. A beneficiary is an individual entitled to receive VA benefits.    The definition of incompetent for VA purposes is a minor or an adult who is rated incompetent by the VA or is under a legal disability by reason of court action.

The VA first makes a determination based on the evidence submitted that the veteran or surviving spouse is not able to manage their money.   If the veteran or spouse wishes, they can tell the VA that they are incompetent and request someone they know and trust be appointed to serve as the fiduciary. 

Before the VA appoints the person, though, they will do what is called a “field examination” to check that the person is trustworthy.

A VA employee, called a Field Examiner, will interview the potential fiduciary to ask whether they are willing to serve, will check the person’s credit rating, do a criminal background check, and ask for personal references.  If the veteran or surviving spouse does not have anyone they trust, or if the VA finds that the person nominated by the veteran or surviving spouse is not trustworthy, the VA can appoint a corporate fiduciary.  In some cases, the VA appoints an employee of an institution, such as an assisted living or nursing home,  to serve as a fiduciary.

The fiduciary is responsible to oversee the veteran or spouse’s VA award, and is required to use the VA funds to pay the basic living expenses for the beneficiary and his or her dependents first, and to provide goods and services to improve the lifestyle of the beneficiary and dependents only once the basic needs are met.

George requested that the VA appoint his oldest son, John, as his fiduciary.  Once the VA investigated John, they made him the payee of George’s VA check.  John received George’s retroactive Pension payment, and now receives George’s monthly check.  John must keep the deposits separate from his own accounts and keep records of payments he makes for George from the VA funds. He also agreed to keep the VA informed of any changes in George’s residence or medical condition, and to file a Federal Fiduciary’s Account, VA Form 21P-4706b, every year.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

DIGITAL ASSETS

What happens to my Facebook page after I die?

A few weeks ago, I received a request to send a birthday greeting to a deceased Facebook friend.  This friend has been dead for several years now, but her Facebook page remains active.  While I feel happy to be reminded of her every year, it feels a little creepy to be asked to wish her a happy birthday.

Have you ever thought about what happens to your "digital assets" after your death?   Who can read your e-mails after your death?  How will someone pay the online bills if you are incapacitated?  Who gets your iTunes or Kindle books?

What if you have an online store or an e-bay or PayPal account that is worth some money?  Will anyone even know what accounts you have?

There is no legal definition of "digital assets", so for the purposes of this article we will say that digital assets are files that are stored on a person's computer or on a server, and online accounts.

 We can divide digital assets into five categories:

  1.  Devices and data, such as computers, iPhones and the documents stored on them
  2. Electronic mail, including message received and continued access
  3. Online accounts which require usernames and passwords
  4. Financial accounts which are usually linked directly to banking and other financial institutions
  5. Online business, such as online stores and blogs which may have the potential for streams of revenue

Traditional laws regarding ownership, and agency and probate laws generally dictate the rules about control of assets during life and the disposition of property at death.  There are hundreds of years of laws governing ownership, access to, and transfer of real property. There are laws and rules that govern ownership, access, and disposition of bank accounts and other intangible property, such as stocks and bonds and there are established laws covering personal property like jewelry and collectibles.  However, the law has not kept up with the ownership, control, or disposition of digital assets.  For the most part, that is because the ownership and rights of control and access to digital assets is not clear. 

 Why is this issue important?

Most people have at least one e-mail account, and many have several.  Each e-mail provider has its own rules governing access to e-mail accounts following the death of the account owner.  You know that agreement that you click on to accept before you can access a service or websites?  Yes, the one you never read.   That is where the terms of access, control and transfer are outlined.  To illustrate, the family of a young Marine, Justin Ellsworth, sought access to his Yahoo! e-mail account following Justin's death.  Before Justin was killed in Iraq, he told his family that the kind e-mails he received were a real comfort to him while he was so far away from home and that he intended to make a scrapbook of some of the e-mails.  Following his death, his father wanted to fulfill Justin's wish to make a scrapbook of the e-mails.   Citing its privacy policies, Yahoo! refused to allow the family access to Justin's e-mails until they got a court order.  Once the family secured the Probate court order, Yahoo! provided the family with a CD containing Justin's incoming e-mails.  However, Yahoo! denied the family access to the account because of their terms of service agreement with Justin.

At the time of the Ellsworth's court proceeding against Yahoo! people weighed on both sides of the issue of whether Justin's right to privacy families right was more important than his family's wish to read his private e-mails. Many sympathized with the family, but also thought that if Justin really wanted his parents to have access he should have given them his password or left written instructions about his wishes for access.  To this day, the issue has not been settled and each e-mail provider follows their own policies and procedures. 

Although Justin's e-mails likely had only sentimental value to his family, many digital assets have financial worth.  Take for instance the ownership of a domain name.  Do you know if your loved ones own domain names?  What if your deceased loved one owned the domain name sex.com which sold for $13 million in 2010?  GoDaddy communicates with clients only via e-mail, so unless you have access to the deceased person's e-mails, you may never know when a domain name comes up for renewal.  Think how you would feel if you did not renew ownership of sex.com!

Although we have said that laws governing digital assets are not clear, in our opinion the best way to handle management of these assets during the life of an incapacitated person or after the death may be to follow the current best practices regarding other assets.

First, appoint someone as an agent under power of attorney with specific powers to manage digital assets, or appoint a trustee to manage your online accounts during your incapacity.  Leave instructions to your agent, and include a way for the agent to get your usernames and passwords.

Giver your personal representative or trustee instructions on how to handle your online accounts after your death, including who you might want to be the beneficiary of such assets.

If you have accounts on websites which you might not want your family to access, you might leave instructions that your personal representative or another person is to clean up your computers, phones and other devices so as not to embarrass your family.

Finally, please let your family or personal representative know whether you want your Facebook page to go into memorial status - meaning it is preserved with pictures and posts, or whether you want them to close it down.


Friday, November 29, 2013

How to Talk to Your Parents, Friends, In-laws, etc. about VA Benefits

How to talk to your parents,

Siblings, Friends and Neighbors about Veterans Benefits

Most of us know someone who served in the military at some point in time.  We’ve seen pictures of them in uniform posted on their walls, or we’ve heard them talk about when they were in Korea, or Viet Nam, or Fort Benning. 

Today, there is a lot of anxiety about healthcare costs, education costs, and long-term care costs.  Have you ever asked someone who served in the military whether they are receiving any benefits or have thought about receiving benefits?  Often veterans or their families will say, “When my dad came back from the war, he never wanted to talk about the war and the VA just reminded him of a really bad time in his life. “  Or, my dad visited a VA hospital and it was too confusing and overwhelming for him.  He was told he didn’t qualify for anything because he had too much money, or didn’t serve at the right time or had never been injured in service, so he just gave up.

To be frank, the VA often does a really bad job of informing veterans about what benefits they might qualify for.  The VA is especially bad in giving advice over the telephone.  Of course, as most of us know, in any business the advice you get depends on who happens to answer the telephone when you call.  What I’ve learned as an attorney is that the caller has to be responsible for asking enough questions and asking them in as many different ways as possible to get to the right answer.  Step one is often to learn the language of the institution you are calling.  When you call your doctor’s office, you try to convey your symptoms in a way that will let the office know enough about your illness or injury to let you know whether you need to rush to the emergency room, or whether your symptoms are nothing to worry about.  You know the doctor will want to know whether you have a fever, whether you are bleeding, when was the onset of the fever.  In order to get the best advice, you are responsible for using language that the doctor’s office will understand.

In order to get the best advice possible from the VA, and in order to help your family and friends get the benefits they deserve, you can learn how to talk to them about VA benefits.

First, you can ask about their service.   When I was a kid, we had a green gas mask stored in our basement storage closet.  My dad would take it out occasionally – usually when entertaining the male teachers he supervised – and tell them the story of how he was part of a unit that used chemicals to experiment on monkeys.  My father was stationed at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds during the Korean War where they experimented with chemical weapons.  I know that my father was stationed there and that my sister was born while he was stationed there in 1953.  I also know that shortly after my sister was born, my dad must have been discharged since they moved back to South Dakota where my dad was a teacher for the next 40 years.

But, how can I prove that my dad was in the service?  First, I can ask him if he has his discharge paper.  The discharge paper is often referred to as the DD-214, for the Department of Defense form number that is used now for most discharges.  However, in WWII and the Korean War it may have been referred to as a separation paper, a Certificate of Discharge, an Enlisted Report and Record of Separation, or some similar title.

There is a lot of information on the discharge paper, and the veteran will need it or a copy to get benefits.  One question you can ask is whether the veteran has that paper or if he or she recorded the paper with the county in which he or she was living at some point after discharge.  If the veteran does not have that paper, he or she will need to get one.  You can help get the discharge paper, but you will need to know the following information:  Branch of Service, Dates of Service (approximate is okay, although the more accurate the information the better chance you’ll have of getting the document) and Social Security number.  You’ll need to know the veterans full name – make sure it is the name he or she used while in the service.  I’ve known veterans who never used the name on their birth certificate, but their military records are all under the name as on the birth certificate.  Be sure you know the spelling used on the birth certificate, too.

If you don’t have the paper, you can order it from the archives.  Here is the website:  www.archives.gov/veterans/.

There was a fire in the storage facility in St. Louis in the 1970’s where many military records were stored.  Thus, some records were destroyed.  Most can be reconstructed, but it may take a little longer to get the records if they were part of that group destroyed in the 1970’s.   You will need to have some patience.

If your parent is reluctant to find out what services are available through the VA or at the VA, ask what experiences they’ve had in the past – if any- and ask whether they would like to hear some of the benefits that are available.  If you know someone in a similar situation who is receiving benefits, you can discuss what benefits that person is receiving and maybe something about their experience with the VA.

I often talk to veterans who feel that the VA has been a lifesaver for them -especially for unemployed or self-employed veterans who may not have cheap affordable healthcare available to them in their area.   My friend swears by the care given to him at the VA.  He is a middle-aged, self-employed, Viet Nam Veteran, who needed care for a heart condition that he could not afford without health insurance.  He found that he was entitled to care at the VA, and since then he has been treated regularly at the VA.

Another client, a successful man in his 60’s, discovered that he had a form of cancer.  Since he was “in country” in Viet Nam, he is now receiving a service-connected disability payment for the cancer.  In addition, the VA is evaluating his claim for PTSD.

Many of my veteran clients now receive hearing aids and other help for hearing loss through the VA.  When they were young, they didn’t notice that their experience around noisy combat affected their hearing, but in older age, the hearing loss is apparent and the treatment for that hearing loss is their right.

I encourage my clients to enroll in the VA healthcare system by filing a form 10-10-EZ, Application for Health Benefits.  You can find that online at www.1010ez.med.va.gov/sec/fha/1010ez/.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What are Advance Directives?

Are you prepared if a tragedy strikes making you or a loved one go to the hospital?

Fortunately we have the right to make our own decisions when it comes to our healthcare, but what if that ability was taken away? How will you and your loved ones wishes be protected? The solution: Advance Directives.

Advance Directives are legal documents stating your wishes for the doctors and rest of your healthcare team to follow when you are unable to make decisions for yourself. During critical times, these documents can make a world a difference.

In recognition of Advance Directive Day on April 16th, our firm will be hosting a Lunch and Learn.

Lunch will be provided and we are honored to have guest speakers Reverend Ed Hampton and Community Outreach Representative for EverCare Hospice Carol Mullen. We invite anyone to join to learn useful information, resources and receive answers to your questions on the importance of Advance Directives.    

See attached flyer for more details. Lunch provided. RSVP REQUIRED!


Friday, January 4, 2013

Know More: What are Advance Directives?

    Are you prepared if a tragedy strikes making you or a loved one is sent to the hospital? Fortunately we have the right to make our own decisions when it comes to our healthcare, but what if that ability was taken away? How will you and your loved ones wishes be protected? The solution: Advance Directives. Advance Directives are legal documents stating your wishes for the doctors and rest of your healthcare team to follow when you are unable to make decisions for yourself. During critical times, these documents can make a world a difference

To learn more about the importance of an Advance Directive clink on the link below:

http://seniorcarecorner.com/health-care-decisions-dnr-advance-directives


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, 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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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!

 

 

 


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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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