Oct 18, 2014

Estate Planning: How to Get Going (and why not to do it yourself)

The American Bar Association is offering a free webinar for the public on October 23 to explain the basics of estate planning. The moderated discussion will air at 1pm Eastern time and will also be available to listen to after the fact. Says the ABA website:

Statistical studies show that 55% of Americans die without a will or estate plan.  This free program informs the non-lawyer public how to start estate planning (wills, powers of attorney and trusts) by providing a set of practical first steps.  Our panel of lawyer and trust officer experts will also explain why simply signing a will or power of attorney with a “do it yourself” plan may actually be worse than doing nothing, costing a “special needs” family member the loss of government benefits or resulting in an ex-spouse inheriting assets. The program is intended for the general public and does not require a background in the law of wills or trusts or tax.

For more information and details on registration, click here

Oct 14, 2014

Medicare Open Enrollment begins Oct. 15




The Medicare Open Enrollment period begins October 15, 2014 and ends on December 7, 2014. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services predicts that premiums for Medicare Advantage plans and Part D plans will rise only slightly in 2015. The Medicare Advantage Plan will cost $33.90, up by $2.94. The typical Part D premium will be $32, a $1 increase.

The Affordable Care Act has helped shrink the donut hole for 2015. Beneficiaries will enter the donut hole once they have paid $2,960 in out-of-pocket costs, up from this year's figure of $2,850.00. And once you have entered the donut hole, you'll pay less for your prescription drugs: 45% for brand name drugs, down from 47.5%; and 65% for generics, down from 72%.

Even if you are happy with your current Medicare health plan and prescription plan, the cost and services provided may change from year to year, so check to be sure your current plans still meet your needs. Researching plans can be a complex venture. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services offer a number of resources and checklists to help you choose the best plan.  Also, you can find the 2015 "Medicare and You" booklet is available here.

I'll end with a word of caution: Medicare Open Enrollment is high season for Medicare scam artists. Be cautious to the extreme. The most common scenario is a call from someone posing as a government representative, asking for personal information so that a new card can be issued. Provide no information or you could have your identity swiped. Also, if you have a Medicare Advantage plan, remember it is illegal for anyone to try to sell you a Medigap plan. For an overview of common Medicare scams to watch out for, click here.

Oct 13, 2014

Florida same-sex married couples still need to take special estate planning steps


Last week the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from several states whose same-sex marriage bans were found unconstitutional by lower federal courts, effectively making same-sex marriage legal in several more states. Currently, 30 states have marriage equality laws on the books.

But here in Florida, it's a different story. A state constitutional amendment denying same-sex marrieds any form of legal family status remains in force. For now. Given the rapidly shifting legal and political winds, many experts believe change is on the way. Five lower federal courts have already found Florida's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, including a ruling in August 2014 by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle. The judge immediately stayed his ruling pending action on other cases by the Supreme Court. With the Supreme Court opting to remain above the fray, the ACLU has now filed a motion with Judge Hinkle requesting that same sex marriages be recognized. Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi indicates she will fight the request, however.


Notwithstanding, there has already been one victory for same-sex marriage in Florida: When Judge Hinkle stayed his ruling, he made an exception for Floridians Arlene Goldberg and Carol Goldwasser. Partners for half a century until Goldwasser's death in March, they were married in New York in 2011. Since Florida does not recognize the marriage, Goldwasser's death certificate did not list her as married, preventing Goldberg from qualifying as a widow and collecting the decedent's higher Social Security benefits. Judge Hinkle ordered the death certificate amended to show Goldwasser to be married at the time of her death.

If you are a same-sex married couple living in Florida, you do not automatically get the benefits and protections the state extends to other marrieds. For example, Florida law does not entitle a same-sex spouse to an elective share of the deceased spouse's estate. Therefore, in order to protect yourselves and one another, you have do some fancy footwork, from an estate planning perspective. A thoughtful estate plan can ensure that your assets go after your wish after death, as well as give you the authority to make financial and health care decisions for one another. An experienced Florida estate planning attorney can address these important issues, and draft the appropriate legal documents to put your minds at ease.

Update: Noting that "this particular issue now requires a prompt Florida Supreme Court decision," the Florida Attorney General on Oct. 13 requested that the state's 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami send two same-sex marriage cases to the Florida Supreme Court for a decision. Her move could speed up resolution of the issue, so stay tuned.

Continue reading the main storyVideo

Oct 8, 2014

In the future, you can put more trust in Medicare nursing home ratings


In my October 2014 ENewsletter (subscribe here) I mentioned the alleged shortcomings of the Medicare 5 star rating system for nursing homes. Its detractors claim that that system, put in place in 2008, relies too heavily on unverified data that nursing homes themselves provide, resulting in sometimes misleading and overly rosy ratings. The two indices that have come under the most intense fire from critics are staffing levels, and quality of care.

To address these problems, a new law is going into effect that will beef up reporting requirements and increase federal oversight and auditing. Below is a brief overview of the changes you can expect once the so-called Impact Act (Improving Medicare Post-Acute Care Transformation Act) goes into effect:
  • Nursing homes will be required to report staffing levels electronically. Reports must be submitted on a quarterly basis and will be verified against electronic payroll data. Staff turnover will also now be part of the reporting requirements and will be weighted into the overall ratings. The new reporting requirements go into effect in 2015, meaning updated ratings will be available starting in 2016.
  • There will be greater oversight and more frequent auditing to ensure that quality-of-care reports are accurate. Quality of care refers to factors such as percentage of falls and bedsores residents experience. In addition, the percentage of residents receiving anti- psychotic drugs will be factored into the ratings.
  • Hospice facilities will also come under closer scrutiny and more frequent auditing. Currently Medicare requires that the states inspect these facilities every six years.
It is hoped that the new reporting system will better serve the public and of course, improve care for nursing home residents. More details on this new program can be found here.

By the way, Medicare is also introducing a five-star rating system into its comparison tool for hospitals, dialysis centers, home health care agencies and physicians. Look for these changes in 2015. More information.

Oct 6, 2014

Karp Law Firm volunteers at Palm Beach Special Olympics Bowling Event

"Karp's Kommandos" volunteered at the Palm Beach County Special Olympics Bowling Event on Sept. 13, helping to organize games and assisting participants. Our kind Kommandos included Attorney Joseph Karp; Estate Planning Paralegals Margaret Sajiun and Khristina Iwasz, who was accompanied by her mother and niece; Estate Administration Paralegal Norma Cruz and her daughter; and Case Manager Supervisor Deeanna Farrington, her son and a friend. Photos from the event:


 A Special Olympian gets an award from Attorney Karp



L-R, front: Margaret Sajiun; Norma Cruz; Khristina Iwasz' niece.
L-R, rear: Norma Cruz' daughter; friend of the Farrington family; Deeanna Farrington; Joseph Karp; Deanna Farrington's son; and Khristina Iwasz and her mother.



 L-R: Attorney Karp, Khristina Iwasz and Margaret Sajiun pose with a bowler



Deeanna Farrington's son and his friend take a break away from the the lanes

Sep 18, 2014

New reverse mortgage rule to protect non-borrower spouse


The Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued a new rule to protect spouses of reverse mortgage holders from eviction after the borrower passes away. 

To qualify for a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), the most popular type of reverse mortgage, a homeowner must be age 62 or older. In the past, if a HECM borrower had a spouse under age 62, the spouse had to be left off the loan. Even if both spouses were over 62, the younger spouse  was often omitted from the loan because that enabled the homeowner to borrow more money. The amount that can be borrowed increases with the age of the borrower. 

The problem: Under those rules, the younger non-borrower spouse could end up evicted from the home when the borrower spouse died. Why? Because at the death of the borrower, the younger spouse who wanted to remain in the home was required to pay the loan in full. This was not possible in many cases, particularly given the recent financial crisis that pushed property values below the loan amount. 


HUD's new rule is aimed at better protecting younger spouses from being evicted from their homes. Effective August 4, 2014, a spouse over 62 who takes out a reverse mortgage may list a younger spouse as a "non-borrowing spouse." Should the borrower die first, the non-borrowing spouse will be entitled to remain in the home if two conditions are met: 
  • The non-borrowing spouse must provide proof within 90 days of the spouse's death that he/she is entitled to remain in the home. Documentation may include a lease, deed, etc. 
  • The non-borrowing spouse must continue to meet all other financial obligations associated with the reverse mortgage - pay property taxes, pay insurance premiums, etc. 

This is good news, but pay attention to these three important caveats:
  1. Unlike the borrower, the non-borrowing spouse may not access the loan balance. 
  2. The new rule applies only to non-borrowing spouses who were married to the borrowing spouse at origination of the loan. Spouses who marry the borrower after the loan is taken out are not protected. 
  3. The amount of the reverse mortgage will now be based on the age of the younger spouse, hence less money will be available the borrower.
To read the new HUD rule in its entirety, click here

Many of my clients who need cash have found the reverse mortgage to be a useful tool - a lifesaver, even. But approached without full awareness of its financial and legal implications, a reverse mortgage can become a nightmare. The process is not the cakewalk or panacea some television commercials would have you believe. As with any financial product, you should do your homework and proceed with caution.

Sep 13, 2014

Karp Law Firm at Alzheimer's Association Lunch of Laughter

The Karp Law Firm helped sponsor the recent Alzheimer's Association "Lunch of Laughter" at the West Palm Beach Improv. All proceeds from the fundraiser benefited the Walk to End Alzheimer's. The Karp Law Firm will also participate in the upcoming fundraising walks in West Palm Beach on Oct. 18 and Jensen Beach on Oct. 25.  Photos from the Lunch of Laughter: 


 




 

Karp Law Firm attendees included (L-R): Office Administrator Audrey Yeager; Case Manager Supervisor Deeanna Farrington; Marketing Director Deborah Karp; Attorney Joseph Karp; and Executive Assistant Julie McKeon. At far right is Steve DeLach of Cresthaven East.


 Official "heckler" Attorney Karp accepts a certificate of appreciation from Alzheimer's Association CEO Ann May. At right, emcee Cindy Schoolmaster of Encore Senior Living.



L-R: Andrea Brennan, Terry Forgie and Elayne Forgie of the Elder Care Resource Center with, far right, Ann May, CEO of the Alzheimer's Association of SE Florida



Dr. Mark Brody of Brain Matters Research stretches his comedic chops.



 Headliner Frank Del Pizzo







Sep 12, 2014

Retirees with student debt: Social Security benefits may be compromised


It's no secret: There's a student debt crisis in this country. But who imagined that student debt is a growing problem for the senior population?

While few households headed by individuals 65 or older carry student loans, there has been a dramatic uptick in the amount of student debt held by seniors overall, skyrocketing from $2.8 billion in 2005 to to $18.2 billion in 2013, according to a recent report from the General Accounting Office. (You can read the full GAO report here.)

While carrying student debt into retirement is obviously undesirable, the bigger sticking point is the default rate, which is far higher for seniors than for their younger counterparts. According to the GAO, the default rate for those ages 25 to 49 is 12%; among those ages 65 to 74, 27%; and for those 75 and up, 51%. Unlike other forms of debt, student loan debt usually cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Aggravating the situation even more, the law permits Social Security benefits to be garnished to repay student debt. According to the Treasury Department, in 2013 152,000 Social Security beneficiaries had their checks garnished to repay defaulted student debt, triple the number in 2006.

How did these seniors get into this situation? The GAO study reveals that 80% of those loans were originated to fund the borrower's education, perhaps to get a college or advanced degree, or to obtain retraining. Those hoped-for jobs may not have panned out, or ill health may have reduced borrowers' ability to repay the loan. The other 20% were incurred to cover educational expenses for the borrower's children or other dependents. And given the tenuous economy, children for whom loans were taken out are not always able to repay their parents.

It's hard enough to recoup financially when you are young. In retirement or approaching retirement, second chances are harder if not impossible to come by. States the GAO: "As the baby boomers continue to move into retirement, the number of older Americans with defaulted loans will only continue to increase. This creates the potential for an unpleasant surprise for some, as their benefits are offset and they face the possibility of a less secure retirement."

There's not much seniors can do if they are stuck with old student loans. But if you are getting on in years, think long and hard before borrowing money for your or your children's education. Student debt can quite literally haunt you forever, and even reduce the Social Security benefits you may be depending on to help finance your golden years.

Sep 9, 2014

Take HIPAA seriously - your doctors do


Just how serious is the medical community about HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act? According to an article in The New York Times of August 10, privacy concerns are responsible for the increasing disappearance of the traditional baby photos from obstetricians' offices. The article states: "Baby photos are a type of protected health information, no less than a medical chart, birth date or Social Security number... Even if a parent sends in the photo, it is considered private unless the parent also sends written authorization for its posting, which almost no one does." Read the  article in its entirety here. 

HIPAA is not just about babies, though. As a patient, you should take HIPAA as seriously as your health care providers do, and incorporate it into your legal planning. Here are some tips: 

Durable Power of Attorney: A HIPAA release must be part of your durable power of attorney if it is a "springing" power. That will enable your agent to obtain proof of your incapacity from your health care providers, so that he/she can manage your affairs. (NOTE: The Florida Power of Attorney Law changed on Oct. 1, 2011. A Springing Power of Attorney executed before that date continues to be honored. However, for documents signed on and after Oct. 1, 2011, only the Immediate Power of Attorney is valid in Florida.) 

Revocable Trust: Most revocable trusts also require medical certification of your incapacity in order for your successor trustee to take over your affairs for you. Therefore, a HIPAA release should also be part of this document. 

Health Care Power of Attorney: While this document enables one or more people to make your medical decisions if you cannot, it does not automatically approve the release of all privileged health care information to that individual(s). Therefore, your health care power of attorney should also include a HIPAA release. The release may be incorporated into the document, or included in a separate document. In my experience, Many Floridians are relying on old, pre-HIPAA documents, unaware of how their families may be impacted by the change in the law.

Our Certified Elder Law/Estate Planning attorneys can review your documents for HIPPA compliance and make sure you and your family are protected. Contact us here

Sep 1, 2014

Joan Rivers: Life turns on a dime sometimes

I saw Joan Rivers perform at Florida Atlantic University about 30 years ago. Whether you love or loathe the comedienne, it's undeniable she exuded incredible energy. She maintained a full schedule right up until her cardiac arrest a few days ago, turning in a Broadway performance the night before her throat surgery. The operation was an out-patient procedure - nothing to be concerned about for the otherwise  healthy 81-year-old.

These kinds of events remind us that sometimes, life turns on a dime. We can't dwell on them; we would drive ourselves crazy if we do. Better to live our lives with confidence, anticipating the best. And the best way to do that: prepare ourselves and our families for that turn-on-a-dime event. If you want to be truly free from unnecessary worry, you have to know you're prepared for whatever life throws your way.

My own family faced a similar, unexpected health crisis one year ago Sept. 5. My 76-year-old brother-in-law fell and hit his head on the sidewalk after exiting a restaurant, apparently because of aortic stenosis. While awaiting cardiac surgery to repair the valve, he sustained a brain aneurysm, had a stroke, and remained on life support for days, until we consented to disconnect life support. He was a gifted classical pianist who on the day of his fall, was practicing for a particularly challenging performance. The unveiling of his gravestone will be at a cemetery in New York State at the end of this month. 
Back to Rivers: The press releases say that her family will soon consider removing her from the breathing apparatus. I do not know for sure, but I suspect her daughter Melissa, who has become something of a Dean Martin to Rivers' Jerry Lewis in recent years, may be the decision-maker. I hope for her sake that her mother had a living will and other health care documents in place to guide her daughter's decision and spare her any more agony than she is already experiencing.  My brother-in-law's written wishes were certainly a help to my family.

Wishing peace to Rivers' family, and to the thousands of families each day who find that their lives have turned on a dime.
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