Feb 19, 2019

Family Conflict Erupts Over Estate's Precious Paintings

One of the fundamental goals of estate planning is to leave a legacy of family harmony. An estate need not be a fortune to spark a family feud – but of course, it helps. Take, for example, the Neumann family of New York.

Family patriarch Hubert Neumann, 87, and his wife Dolores had three daughters: Belinda, Kristina and Melissa. In the 1980s, Dolores befriended little-known graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and acquired several of his works. Today, his paintings are worth millions.

Dolores died in Sept. 2016 of liver cancer. Soon after, Belinda, 51, turned over one of the Basquiat paintings for auction at Sotheby’s. Hubert sued to block the sale, claiming Belinda had tricked her ailing mother into signing over the rights to the work. Although Hubert lost the suit, the painting, an oil on wood titled “Flesh and Spirit,” went for $30.7 million. That was far less than the expected $100 million. Belinda then sued her father for $100 million, claiming his lawsuit had scared off investors and depressed the price.

As often happens with estate contests, this is a saga that will probably not wrap up quickly. More legal maneuvering is now in the works. The Neumann family still owns many precious paintings, including additional works by Basquiat, as well as by Picasso, Miro, Haring, Koons and others. Family members want to hang on to them. Belinda wants to sell them, and is suing her father and sisters for the right to do so. According to her lawsuit, Belinda “needs the funds to pay her family’s significant housing, litigation and educational expenses.” She claims that the paintings cannot be equitably divided because of the great disparity in their individual values.

Belinda also claims in her lawsuit that the family cannot share the works because there is just too much acrimony among them. That's probably one of the only things the Neumann family can agree on these days.

Your estate plan should always be designed to smooth over potential family conflicts, not stoke them. See a qualified estate planning attorney for guidance!

Feb 7, 2019

Skilled Nursing Homes Face Tightened Scrutiny of Staffing Levels

Throughout our many years of experience, we have found the vast majority of nursing home staff to be caring, well-intentioned and hardworking. That said, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have concluded there is room for improvement. 

A new, more rigorous data-gathering system for nursing homes that relies on payroll records - not self-reporting as before - is now being implemented to gather information about staffing levels. The new data has revealed wider deficiencies in staffing than previously believed, particularly with regard to registered nurses. Under federal regulations, a registered nurse must be on site for at least eight hours daily; a licensed practical nurse must be present round the clock. According to the payroll records, about a quarter of nursing homes surveyed lacked a registered nurse on site at least one day during each three-month period. Based on payroll data, Medicare lowered its ratings for about 1,400 nursing homes last year. 

To remedy the situation, CMS is increasing the frequency of surprise spot checks at skilled nursing homes, particularly on the weekends. However, representatives of the nursing home industry point out that increased spot checks will not solve the real problem skilled nursing homes face: a shortage of workers. Dr. David Gifford, senior vice president of quality and regulatory affairs at the American Health Care Association, writes: “CMS seems to be focusing on a punitive approach that will penalize providers and make it harder to hire staff to meet the shared goal of increasing staffing.” 

To see how a skilled nursing facility rates, check out the  Nursing Home Compare page on the CMS website. The rating scale is based on a scale of one to five stars, with five being the best. Stars are awarded based on staffing, as well as health inspections and several other quality of care measures.

Jan 23, 2019

Jan 17, 2019

A Valentine's Message To Our Readers: Online Dating Safety Tips

We are lawyers, not matchmakers. That said, as elder law and estate planning attorneys we often meet older people who are looking for companionship. With so many people of all ages using online dating sites, we are taking this Valentine's Day to offer some tips for staying safe online.

Now a multi-billion dollar industry, dating sites and apps have allowed many people to find true friendship, romance, and even marriage. But inevitably, the industry has also attracted its fair share of cyber-criminals. Older people who may be less tech-savvy than younger generations may be particularly susceptible to online predation. And while both men and women can become victims, the FBI says that women over age 40 who are widowed, divorced or disabled are targeted most often. Here are some fundamental rules for staying safe: 

  • Amy Nofziger of the AARP’s fraud unit emphasizes being alert to bad grammar. Why? Offshore scammers often use translation software that produces less than intelligible messages. 
  • Be cautious if your online friend seems in a hurry to communicate with you by text, phone or email. He/she may want to get around the dating site's privacy controls.
  • Does your online contact profess love and loyalty too early in your communication? Don’t allow yourself to be duped into a premature sense of trust. 
  • It is common for fraudsters to find reasons they cannot meet you in person. Your contact may claim to be traveling on business, hospitalized, etc. 
  • Once a fraudster has your trust, he/she will put the squeeze on you. You may be asked to wire money for a medical emergency, financial crisis, etc. If you had future plans to meet personally, you may be told that your contact needs money to travel to see you. 
  • Nofziger also recommends that you do your own cyber-sleuthing. You can google names, emails, phone numbers to see if the person has a legitimate web presence. You can even do a reverse image search: Drag the person’s photo into google and you can find out where the image has appeared. If it’s a stock image and/or or you find multiple profiles using that image, you know the person is not on the up and up.  
  • Do not hesitate to contact the dating website if you suspect attempted foul play. 
  • If you arrange an in-person meeting, select a public place, preferably during daylight hours. And let someone know where you are going.

There are numerous dating sites that cater to mature people. Some are free, some not. Each site has its own policies and fees, so research carefully. Happy Valentine's Day!

Jan 9, 2019

Sumner Redstone Estate Battle: The Wheel Has Come Full Circle

It's been as much a Shakespearean tragedy as a legal battle over an elderly billionaire's assets. The story features power grabs, on-again, off-again lovers, betrayal, and money... lots and lots of money.

In my post of 2016 I described the first act of the drama: Media tycoon Sumner Redstone's relationship with Manuela Herzer, four decades his junior. Since meeting her in 1999, the now 95-year-old had lavished  gifts on her totalling in the millions. In 2015, as Redstone's health continued to fail, she was living in his Beverly Hills mansion. He had named her his health care decision maker. She was also included in his estate plan, set to receive $70 million and the California house. Forbes estimates Redstone's worth at $4.5 billion.

Act Two opened in October 2015. That is when Redstone suddenly ejected Herzer from his home and cut her out of his estate plan. He replaced her with his daughter, Shari, as health care surrogate. Shari effectively began taking increasing control of the business, National Amusements, a national theater chain that owns Viacom and CBS.

Herzer did not go gently into the night, however. She launched a series of lawsuits to reclaim her role as health care surrogate and reclaim her expected inheritance. She alleged that Redstone's daughter and his nurses had conspired against her, and that Redstone was competent when he created his estate plan and named her his health care surrogate. Redstone countersued, alleging elder abuse and claiming Herzer had attempted to isolate him from his family in order to bilk him out of his fortune.

A slew of litigation ensued since then. As the legal wrangling unfolded, Redstone's already-precarious health continued to decline. Today, Redstone is unable to speak and is looked after by an army of round-the-clock caregivers. Last month, he was put under court-supervised guardianship.

Last year, the Redstones offered Herzer $30 million to go away. She rejected the offer. It's a move she likely regrets, because now, in Act 3, she's suffered a serious reversal of fortune. The Wall Street Journal reports that a settlement has been reached that requires Herzer to pay back $3.25 million to Redstone for the gifts she received over the years, and to agree not to file any more lawsuits.
As Shakespeare wrote in King Lear, "The wheel has come full circle."
Legal battles erupt over far less than $4.5 billion! See a qualified estate planning attorney to devise a thoughtful estate plan, including a plan to protect you from potential financial predators as you age.

Jan 5, 2019

Retirement Isn't For Everyone - Just Ask These Lawyers!

Retirement isn’t for everyone. If health holds out, some people want to keep working.

Just ask Attorney Martin Katz, whose remarkable career was covered in a recent Associated Press article. At the age of 99, Katz works as a special public defender for the State of Connecticut, as well as serving as magistrate for small claims cases and providing free legal services for veterans. He graduated from the University of Connecticut Law School in 1951 after seeing action in North Africa and Europe during World War II.
Omar Williams, Superior Court Judge, says of Katz: “Obviously, it’s amazing that there is someone who is 99 years old who is still working in this field. But to be putting out that type of work product, to be every bit a persuasive advocate — it’s absolutely incredible.”

Katz says he loves his work and has no intention of giving it up. He doesn’t know what he’d do with his time if he wasn’t working. When asked when he plans to retire, he quips, “When they carry me out of here.”

But Katz is practically a baby compared to Mordie Rochlin, age 106. Rochlin is a New York tax and estates lawyer who started at the Paul Weiss firm in 1938. Although he can no longer put in full days and must use a wheelchair, he is still of counsel to the firm. He goes to the office and spends about an hour and a half there, reading memos and making phone calls. He tells the New York Law Journal: “Paul Weiss was my life. The way I looked on the firm, it was not only a community of scholars but a community of friends.”

The current chairman of the firm, a summer associate when Rochlin gave up full-time work, says. “Mordie is a treasure.”

Dec 25, 2018

Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Again Denied Agent Orange Benefits

Vietnam veterans who served in “blue waters” off the coast of Vietnam have for years pressured the federal government to provide them with the same benefits other Vietnam veterans receive as a result of exposure to Agent Orange. The Agent Orange Act of 1991 excluded Blue Water veterans from these benefits, despite the veterans' contention that they were exposed to the herbicide as a result of water used aboard ship for laundry, cooking, etc. Exposure to the herbicide has been linked to cancer, heart disease, respiratory problems and neurological disorders. You can read my prior post on this topic here.

Unfortunately, Congress recently delivered another political setback for Blue Water veterans. The Senate just killed a measure passed 382-0 by the House, that would have provided 90,000 Blue Water veterans with Agent Orange medical benefits. Senators Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) blocked the vote, noting the V.A.'s concerns about the cost. Originally thought to cost $1.1 billion over ten years when the House passed the measure, the V.A. more recently projected the cost at closer to $5.5 billion. The V.A. has also continued to express doubt about the link between blue water service and Agent Orange-related maladies. Both senators indicated that wanted to wait to vote on the issue after an additional scientific study is available on the subject. The study is due out in 2019.

Advocates of the measure in Congress and veterans' groups were quick to condemn the Senate's lack of action.  House Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Tim Walz, (D- Minn) accused Senate opponents of hypocrisy, given the major tax cut package passed by the Republican-controlled Congress. Senator John Tester (D-Wyoming) said "this 11th hour attempt to block the bill is a thumb in the eye to millions of veterans and service members." And the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, B.J. Lawrence, claims that obstruction of the bill "forsakes our nation’s promise to take care of those who were injured or ill due to military service.” House Representative Mark Takano (D-CA) suggested the president could tweet out his support for the Senate bill and call out the two senators holding up the vote, but the tweet never came.

Supporters of the measure have vowed to reintroduce the legislation again next year.

Dec 18, 2018

Panel Disucssion for Older Women, January 12

"Older Women: Sex, Health and Wealth"
Hear Attorney Adele Harris of The Karp Law Firm and other panelists discuss issues of importance to older women at this January 12 event presented by the National Organization for Women.

Dec 16, 2018

Congress Considering Raising ABLE Account Age Threshold

In prior blog posts I told you about the ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act. The 2014 legislation allows individuals with qualifying disabilities to save in tax-advantaged accounts. The main advantage of the account is that it allows eligible individuals to possess over $2,000 in assets, yet still qualify for means-tested federal benefits such as Medicaid and SSDI. Prior to this legislation, individuals dependent on these important federal programs had to keep their assets under $2,000, effectively impoverished, to qualify for these benefits. 

Also, one of the rules is that the beneficiary of an ABLE account must have developed his/her disability before age of 26. Since the introduction of the legislation, public pressure has mounted to raise the age of onset. Raising the age limit would allow those who have developed chronic debilitating medical conditions after that age, or those who have been disabled as a result of accidents sustained after that age, to open an ABLE account.

To remedy this problem, the "ABLE Age Adjustment Act" (Senate Bill 817) has been introduced in Congress. If passed, it will raise the threshold for disability onset from age 26 to age 46. You can read more about the bill and follow its progress by clicking here.

For details on how ABLE accounts work, see my prior blog post here. Read about the Florida ABLE program here.

Nov 23, 2018

Parents Should Designate Guardian For Minor Children

Despite the fact that we are “Elder Law Attorneys,” we are also traditional estate planners helping adults of all ages make plans for the future. Naturally, our clients include parents of young children who want to make sure their children are well cared for if anything happens to them, whether through death or incapacity. If you have youngsters, do not procrastinate when it comes to creating these important plans. 

Here are the basic components that should be included in your plan:

Designate a Guardian 
Designating a guardian for your minor child is essential. This protects your child and will relieve you of worrying about all the "what ifs" should something happen to you. Designating a guardian can even benefit your extended family: Numerous legal battles have ensued when grandparents from different sides of the family or other family members vie for custody of an orphaned youngster.

There is only one way to name a guardian for your minor child: through a Last Will and Testament. When the Will is admitted to probate, the court will customarily honor the parents’ wishes, unless the designated guardian is found to be grossly unfit.

Issues to Consider In Selecting a Guardian 
What should you consider when selecting a guardian? It may be an easy choice if your sister lives around the corner from you, has a child your child's age, adores your child, and everyone gets on famously. But the choice is often not so simple. Here are a few of the issues to consider when deciding on a guardian for your child: 
  • Grandparents often come to mind as the first choice. But take into consideration their temperament, their health, their age. Are they young enough to properly care for active toddlers? Will they be too advanced in age when your child is a teen? And if there are two sets of grandparents, which one is most likely the best choice?
  • What are the prospective guardian’s moral values, religious values, lifestyle? Are they in line with yours? Is he/she going to point your child on the path you have in mind?  
  • Does the person have a job that keeps them away from home much of the time?
  • Does the prospective guardian have children of his/her own? Will that be a plus or a negative? Have you observed how the person is raising his/her own children? 
  • Where does the person reside? If you pass away when your child is an infant, it won’t matter much where the guardian resides. But older children tend to do better if they can remain in their community, attend the same school, and maintain existing friendships.  
  • Don't lock yourself into considering only married couples. A single individual who loves your children and has the capacity to care for your them may be the best choice. If you are considering a married couple, does their marriage appear stable? If the couple splits up, who will get your child?  
  • Have you talked to the prospective guardian to make sure the person is willing to serve? However remote the possibility that the person will ever have to step up to the plate, this is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. 
  • Even if you are divorced, you will want to designate a guardian in the event that your ex-spouse can’t or won’t serve. You should also appoint a back-up guardian, in case your first choice cannot serve.

Designate a Guardian of the Child’s Property 
In addition to designating a personal guardian for your child, you will also need to name a Guardian of The Child’s Property. This is the person(s)  who will manage your child’s money. The child’s personal guardian could serve in this capacity, but you may prefer to assign the jobs to different individuals.
Also, consider setting up a trust for your child. You can include a provision directing your chosen trustee to release the moneys in a staggered fashion. Without a trust, your child will receive whatever you leave him as a lump sum when he/she attains the age of 18. At that age, your child may not be sufficiently mature to handle a large sum of money.   

Create a Designation of Health Care Surrogate 
You should execute a Designation of Health Care Surrogate For a Minor Child, particularly if you tend to be away for extended periods on business or vacation, or if you entrust your child to someone else for extended periods. This allows you to designate one or more persons to make your child’s health care decisions if you cannot be contacted. 
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