Oct 28, 2014

Glenn Campbell's Alzheimer's journey revealed in documentary film

Grammy-award winning musician Glen Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 2011, but he kept playing music for as long as he could. He hit the road for his farewell tour, making light of his ailment, raising public awareness of Alzheimer's, and of course, entertaining his loyal fans. You can read my prior posts about Campbell here and here

Campbell, now 77, is no longer able to perform and lives in a long-term care residence. He has two guitars in his room which he will still pick up from time to time, his wife says.

Filmmaker James Keach followed Campbell and his family during the Farewell Tour's 150 shows. He and Campbell's wife gave a touching interview to NPR Radio about the musician and his journey through Alzheimer's. Click below to listen.



Oct 26, 2014

Keep your eyes open when visiting aging parents at Thanksgiving

Calls to assisted living residences always spike right after Thanksgiving.  That's not coincidence: Those calls are from adult children concerned about the parents they just visited. Our office gets more calls from adult children at this time, too.

Thanksgiving is is one of the few opportunities many children and parents have to spend time with one another. If you're a parent, why not take a few moments to tell your adult kids about where your important documents are, and how to access them? What you would like them to do in the event you have a medical crisis? Give them some general idea of your finances? (You don't need to discuss specific inheritances, or show them bank statements.) This key information will prevent your children from being blindsided if you become disabled, run into a medical emergency, or when you pass away. If your kids express discomfort with the conversation, let them know it gives you great peace of mind to provide them with this information, and that you really appreciate them hanging in there for "the talk."

On the other hand, if you are an adult child who wants to initiate this conversation, you may find your parents resistant. You can't make your parents talk, and you certainly don't want to turn your holiday visit into an inquisition! Let them know you really would like the information for your own peace of mind, so that you will have some idea of what to do if they run into trouble. 

If your parent still resists, just look around: You can learn a lot about their circumstances through casual conversation and observation.What should you look for? For starters, is the house in good order? Are there unopened bills piling up? Is the house physically safe? Is your parent exhibiting any out-of-the-ordinary behaviors? Showing signs of significant declining health like weight loss or a different gait? Are the refrigerator and pantry stocked? If you go for a drive with your parent, how is his/her driving? Does your parent's hearing and vision seem okay? If your parent wishes and you are in town for a sufficiently long period of time, your parent might even want you to accompany him/her to a doctor's appointment or two. This is also a good time to get a list of their doctors and prescriptions.

If you parent is forthcoming, find out about their safe deposit box, insurance coverage, and whether they have a durable power of attorney, living will, trust or will. If they have these documents, where are they kept? I have had people tell me they it was only when they inquired about these matters during a family get-together that they learned they had been named as their parent's attorney-in-fact, trustee or personal representative! If your parents have not done any estate planning,  this is a good time to encourage them to do so.

The AARP offers a good checklist of what to observe and ask when visiting your parents. But go slowly and go easy. Remember, this is Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

Long-Term Care Insurers want to know your family health history

If you apply for long-term care insurance, can the carrier ask about your family's medical history? You bet it can. Unlike health insurance companies,  long-term care carriers are not prohibited by the Affordable Care Act from asking about your family's health history. And you can count on them asking more and more of those questions.

According to a September 12 report in Financial Advisor, long-term care insurance carriers are placing increasing importance on your family medical history to determine if, and at what premium, you will be insured. Of particular interest to the carriers, according to Genworth, is whether a parent had early onset coronary artery disease before age 60, or dementia prior to age 70, because of the potential genetic links in both conditions. 

If you find yourself disqualified from a traditional long-term care policy for this or any other reason, you might want to look into the new "hybrid" policies that have come to market in recent years. These  hybrids are basically riders that can be added to life insurance policies and annuities. Hybrids often have lower underwriting standards than traditional policies. In some cases you may not even have to pay anything to add the rider. Also, if you end up not filing a claim, you or your family may be entitled to the funds. Check out my overview of hybrid policies.

While my law firm can often help you preserve assets by securing Medicaid benefits and/or Veterans Aid and Attendance benefits if you require long-term care in the future, I advise all my clients to look into buying long-term care insurance. The cost of a nursing home in South Florida has now ticked up to about $9,000 per month! Obviously it is better for your peace of mind - and your family's, too - to be prepared in advance and to know that you are insured.  The younger you are when you apply, the more likely you are to be insured, and the lower your premiums will be.

Oct 21, 2014

New disabled veterans memorial unveiled in DC

For every tragic story of a life unraveled by military battle, there are a dozen tales of individuals who have managed to triumph over the harrowing experiences of war and ruin. 

That quote, from former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown who was partially paralyzed in Vietnam, is engraved on the wall at the new American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. The glass and granite memorial was dedicated recently as a long-awaited tribute to the U.S. veterans whose injuries have had life-altering consequences. These veterans did not pay the "ultimate" price - but the price has been steep and their journey painful and ongoing.

In his dedication speech, President Obama acknowledged that our country has sometimes failed to properly serve its wounded warriors. "This memorial is a challenge to all of us, a reminder of the obligations this country is under," he said.

The memorial has been 14 years in the making. Delray Beach resident Lois Pope, widow of the late owner of the National Enquirer and a philanthropist in her own right, has been instrumental in getting the project off the ground and raising the $80 million to finance it. Read more about the memorial here.

The Karp Law Firm advises elderly veterans who have long-term care needs, and their families. Find out more about qualifying for veterans aid and attendance benefits for home care, nursing care or assisted living care.

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 $32.00, a $1 increase.

The Affordable Care Act has helped shrink the doughnut hole for 2015. Beneficiaries will enter the doughnut hole once they have paid $2,960.00 in out-of-pocket costs, up from this year's figure of $2,850.00. And once you have entered the doughnut 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 offers a number of resources and checklists to help you choose the best plan.  Also, you can find the 2015 "Medicare and You" booklet 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, 32 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 now opting to remain above the fray, the ACLU has filed a motion requesting that same sex marriages be recognized.

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 from collecting the decedent's higher Social Security benefits. Judge Hinkle ordered the death certificate amended to reflect that Goldwasser was 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 to whom you 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.

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 the 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. An overhaul is needed. And it's on its way.

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 will be submitted on a quarterly basis and will be verified against electronic payroll data. Staff turnover will also 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 be scrutinized more closely and will be audited more frequently. 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.
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