Nov 17, 2017

Bill Gates Digs Deeper Into Alzheimer's Disease

Bill Gates has taken on a new mission: defeating Alzheimer's Disease. And he's approaching it with the same out-of-the-box thinking that led him to create Microsoft. He recently contributed $50 million of his own money (not his foundation's) to the battle.

The philanthropist's father just turned 92 and is doing well, but as Gates notes, he is one of the lucky ones: Statistics show that if one makes it to age 80, the chances of developing the disease are about 50%. And Alzheimer’s is the only one of the top ten causes of death in the U.S. for which there is no effective treatment or cure. That's a fact that does not sit well with Gates' inner innovator.

After studying the tremendous emotional and financial burden the disease takes on families and society, Gates decided to plow $50 million into the Dementia Discovery Fund. The fund is a unique collaboration of industry, charity and government, based in the U.K. While most research into Alzheimer’s focuses on the two proteins which seem to be involved with Alzheimer’s, amyloid and tau, the Dementia Discovery Fund is examining other disease pathways and more unconventional treatments. Writes Gates: “We’ve seen scientific innovation turn once-guaranteed killers like HIV into chronic illnesses that can be held in check with medication. I believe we can do the same (or better) with Alzheimer’s.”

Several of his own family members succumbed to the disease. “I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity,” he notes in his blog, “and there is nothing you can do about it. It feels a lot like you’re experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew.”

Unlike Gates, most American families lack sufficient financial resources to care for loved ones affected by Alzheimer’s Disease. Many still believe that Medicare covers the cost of long-term care; discovering it does not is a shocking wake-up call for scores of Americans every day. Without generous long-term care insurance, middle class families are turning to other solutions, like Medicaid and Veterans benefits, or risking the loss of everything they've worked for.

Kudos to Bill Gates. We hope his efforts will open new “windows” into this dreaded disease, and eventually, to an effective cure or treatment. We really need the breakthrough.

Read Bill Gates’ blog post, Why I'm Digging Deeper Into Alzheimer's.

To read about Medicaid benefits and Veterans benefit for long-term care, click here.
Find out more about the Dementia Discovery Fund.

Nov 11, 2017

House Tax Bill Raises Concern Among Advocates for Seniors, The Disabled

Debate on the proposed tax overhaul is heating up. Both chambers of Congress have now produced their own bills which have significant differences.

Advocates for older Americans and the disabled have strongly criticized a key provision in the House's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The bill eliminates the itemized medical expense deduction, which currently allows taxpayers who spend more than 10% of their adjusted gross income on medical costs to deduct a portion from their taxes. It is anticipated that older Americans, the chronically ill and the disabled - those who tend to have high medical expenses - would be impacted the most. Out-of-pocket costs for long-term care would not be deductible, nor would premiums for long-term care insurance, co-pays, etc.  

Only about 6% of filers - 8.8 million households - itemized medical expenses in 2015, reports the IRS. But of those who did, the AARP notes, 74% were over the age of 50, and half had incomes of $50,000 or less.

House Republicans counter the criticism by noting the small percentage of Americans who take the itemized deduction. They assert that overall, the changes would be helpful to seniors. Republican Rep. George Holding of North Carolina states: "In the context of tax reform, this targeted deduction is no longer vital thanks to the other tax benefits for seniors and all Americans provided in this bill."

Another area of concern for some is the elimination of the Orphan Drug Tax Credit, which allows pharmaceutical and biotech companies to deduct up to 50% of the cost of clinical trials for treatments of rare diseases, such as Lou Gehrig's Disease and Huntington's Disease. Orphan drugs target diseases that affect less than 200,000 Americans.

Another area of widespread concern to those of all ages is the House's plan to do away with the tax deduction for interest on student loans, which was claimed by 12 million filers in 2015. The tax break is available to single taxpayers who earn up to $80,000 per year, and married couples who earn up to $160,000 per year.

You can read the House bill here.
Read a summary of the Senate bill here.

Nov 9, 2017

Veterans Shop Tax Free For Life Beginning Veterans Day 2017

If you are a military veteran, you can purchase merchandise sales-tax free beginning this Veterans Day, November 11, 2017. This is not a one-day benefit. It is a lifetime benefit! Florida sales tax is 6% so you could save a bundle over time. Eligible shoppers include honorably discharged veterans, active military, Reserves, Guard, spouses and family members. 
The benefit is offered through the online shopping service, Items available for purchase are similar to what you would find at most department stores and include clothing, furniture, electronics, jewelry, sports equipment, etc. In order to qualify to begin making tax-free purchases from the site, you must first be verified. You can start the verification process by visiting
The Karp Law Firm advises elderly and disabled veterans about V.A. benefits for home care, nursing home care, or assisted living. For more information on our services and these benefits, click here.

Oct 22, 2017

Playboy Founder A Shrewd Estate Planner

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died in September at age 91.  As he wished, he was laid to rest at Los Angeles' Westwood Memorial Park in a mausoleum adjacent to Marilyn Monroe, who appeared on the very first cover of the magazine.

Hefner leaves behind two children from his first marriage: Christie, now in her 60s, and David; and from his second marriage, Marston and Cooper. Cooper, 27, is the current creative director of Playboy Enterprises.  Most of Hefner’s assets will go to his children, the University of California Film School, and several charities.

Hefner launched the magazine in 1953 with an investment of $8,000. The satin smoking-jacketed tycoon reigned over his empire for decades. In the 1970s, readership of Playboy peaked at seven million. But changing times and tastes, and the rise of the internet, caught up with the business in recent years. Current magazine readership is said to be just 500,000. Most of Playboy's revenue now derives from licensing deals to put its famous logo on everything from perfume to clothing. 

Whatever you think of Hefner's lifestyle and influence on American culture, he deserves credit for the nimbleness of his estate planning. Confronted with changing family circumstances and business realities, Hefner made several shrewd decisions designed to protect himself and his children, and to minimize the chances of battles occurring over his estate once he was gone. That is an approach we would all be wise to adopt, because everyone's circumstances and priorities change with time.

Hefner married his last and third wife, Crystal Harris, then 26, on New Years Eve in 2012 at the Playboy Mansion. They had met when she posed for the centerfold. According to reports, Hefner’s children, originally skeptical about Harris’ motives, felt grateful for the care she gave their father as his health declined. She coordinated game nights and movie nights to keep up his spirits, accompanied him to his doctor’s appointments, and when he was ultimately confined to bed, remained at his side. But she gets more than just her stepchildren's appreciation: Although not included in Hefner's will, the prenuptial she signed guaranteed her $5 million at his death. She also gets the house he purchased for her in 2013, in a trust that she controls. Located in the Hollywood Hills, the 5,900-square-foot residence has 4 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms and an infinity pool.  

Hefner owned only a 35% interest in Playboy Enterprises when he died, and all of Playboy Magazine. He had sold the company to a private equity firm some years ago. That deal provided Hefner with an annual salary of  $1 million and editorial control over the Playboy brand. Playboy Enterprises has one year from the date of his death to buy the shares from his estate; if it does not, the shares will be sold to the highest bidder. Their value is estimated at around $45 million, and the proceeds will go to Hefner's children.

It is not well known that at the end of his life, Hefner no longer owned the famous Playboy mansion he continued to reside in. Playboy Enterprises did. Hefner had given up ownership when he took the company private. Then, in 2016, Playboy Enterprises sold the 20,000-square-foot, 29-room compound to Hefner's adjacent neighbor, Daren Metropoulos for $110 million, on the condition that Hef could live there for the rest of his life. It is believed Metropoulos now intends to combine both properties and create a mega-mansion of some sort.

What happens to the Playboy brand now that Hef is out of the picture? We'll just have to wait and see.

Oct 19, 2017

Long-Term Care Costs Increase Sharply

Genworth Financial has released its 2017 survey of long-term care costs. The picture is not encouraging. Although the cost of care has always been shockingly expensive, and increased annually without fail, the rate of increase seems to be picking up.

Nationally, the median cost of a private room in a long-term care facility is now $97,455, a 5.5% increase over 2016. This is three times the national inflation rate. Compare this to the 1.24% increase from 2015 to 2016. In South Florida, the cost is even higher than the national median: $116,800 annually for a private room.

It’s not just nursing homes that cost more. So do other long-term care services. The national median cost of a home health aide rose even more sharply than nursing home costs, up 6.17% from last year, to $21.50 per hour. Homemaker services rose 4.75%, to $21 per hour. Even adult day care services costs rose, up 2.94% to $70 per day.

Despite these daunting numbers, two thirds of Americans still believe that government programs will cover all or some of their care if they ever need it! Every day my office receives panicked calls from family members who have discovered that assumption isn't so. Unless you are very poor or very wealthy, you are on your own.

With no coherent national policy to address the growing crisis, each of us has to take steps in anticipation that we will need long-term care at some point in our lives. For some, that means securing long-term care insurance. Contact our office and we can put you in touch with someone who can discuss your insurance options. Alternatively, make proactive plans to secure Medicaid benefits for long-term care. Contact a Florida Bar Certified Elder Law Attorney to discuss how you can protect all or some of your assets from the cost of long-term care.
Check out the costs of long-term care services in your state  here.

Oct 1, 2017

Cats Inherit Enough to Last Nine Lives

Thanks to their devoted late owner, two cats have more than enough money to last their nine lives. 

New York resident Ellen Frey-Router died in 2015 at age 88. Her will specified that $300,000 of her approximately $3 million estate was to go to her beloved felines, Troy and Tiger. She left instructions for their care that included regular grooming and veterinary visits, and specified that they must "never be caged." She named two of her health aides to care for the cats and manage their money. Troy now lives with Rita Pohila. And Tiger, once a stray, has "retired" to Florida with Dahlia Grizzle, who says he's "a wonderful cat."

Frey-Wouter had worked for the United Nations. Her husband predeceased her and the couple had no children. Her only relative, a sister who lives in the Netherlands, will receive any monies left over after the cats pass away. Most of Frey-Wouter's estate went to her lawyer, several charities and her home health aides.

Troy and Tiger's inheritances are modest compared to some cases that made headlines in recent years. Hotel magnate Leona Helmsley left her Maltese $12 million and nothing to her family, although a judge later pared down the dog's inheritance to "just" $2 million. Wealthy Miami Beach resident Gail Posner, daughter of leveraged buyout king Victor Posner, left her dog $11 million, and her son, Brett Carr, $1 million. Stockbroker Muriel Siebert left $100,000 for the care and maintenance of her chihuahua. 

But by all accounts, the world's richest canine heir is Gunther IV. The German Shepherd inherited his fortune from his sire, Gunther III - who inherited his fortune from his deceased owner, German Countess Karlotta Liebenstein. Liebenstein's original bequest was $80 million, but with wise investments, the pooch's portfolio now stands at about $400 million.

These ridiculous sums aside, many people provide for their pets in their estate plans to ensure that a pet that outlives them does not end up in a shelter, on the street or euthanized. Florida law since 2003 has allowed pets to be named as beneficiaries. Talk to our estate planning attorneys about making arrangements for your pet.

Sep 24, 2017

Funnyman Jerry Lewis' will no laughing matter for children from first marriage

Jerry Lewis died of heart failure in August at age 91. Over the years the comedian, actor and director gave generous amounts of time and money to “Jerry’s Kids,” children coping with muscular dystrophy. Lewis' generosity did not extend to the children from his first marriage, however: He cut them out of his estate. His 2012 will, now public record, states: “I have intentionally excluded Gary Lewis, Ronald Lewis, Anthony Joseph Lewis, Christopher Joseph Lewis, Scott Anthony Lewis, and Joseph Christopher Lewis and their descendants as beneficiaries of my estate, it being my intention that they shall receive no benefits hereunder.” 

Joseph, the youngest, committed suicide in 2009. The surviving sons, all with his first wife, singer Patti Palmer, are now in their 50s.  Lewis married Palmer in 1944, a few years before his star rose meteorically as a result of his partnership with Dean Martin. The 36-year marriage to Palmer reportedly was not smooth; Lewis admitted he had often been unfaithful. And his relationship with his children was apparently not much better than it was with his spouse. When Joseph died, the sons reportedly blamed their father. Gary told the Daily Mail: “Jerry Lewis is a mean and evil person. He was never loving and caring toward me or my brothers.” Gary maintained that his brother had died, in part, of a broken heart, and that the tragedy might have been averted if his father had reached out to him.

Also disinherited: Suzan Minoret, born in 1952 and allegedly the product of an affair. Lewis never confirmed or denied fatherhood. Minoret is currently homeless and living in Philadelphia.  

According to the will, Lewis’ current wife SanDee Pitnick, who he married in 1983, will get everything. Their adopted daughter, Danielle, is next in line. Danielle was Lewis' manager, and his relationship with her was vastly different from the one he had with his sons. In an interview with Inside Edition, Lewis spoke of his pride in Danielle and his close bond with her. “I don’t have to do anything for her to love me. She loves me already,” he told the interviewer.

There are varying estimates of the value Lewis’ estate. The cash seems shockingly low, perhaps $2 million, including a house in Las Vegas. But there is also a Lewis Family Trust. It is a private document, but experts speculate it could own the movie rights to Lewis' most famous films. That intellectual property could be highly lucrative for Pitnick and Danielle in the future.

Sep 15, 2017

Reverse Mortgage Borrowers Face New Rules Effective October 2, 2017

The Trump Administration has rolled out new rules for federally backed HECM (Home Equity Conversion Mortgage) reverse mortgages.  The new rules go into effect October 2, 2017 and will affect new borrowers only. A reverse mortgage allows a person age 62 and over to borrow against his/her home’s equity without having to pay back the loan until the borrower moves, passes away or sells. Many seniors with equity in their homes turn to reverse mortgages to generate needed cash in retirement.

For the typical borrower, the new rules increase the upfront cost of the loan while decreasing the amount of funds available. The main changes are:

  • The initial mortgage insurance premium for all borrowers will be 2%. Prior to the new rule, borrowers tapping less than 60% of home equity in the first year paid an initial premium of .5%, and those borrowing more than 60% paid 2.5%.
  • For all borrowers, the ongoing annual premium will drop  from 1.25% to .5% of the outstanding mortgage balance.
  • The amount that borrowers may access, while still pegged to age and ongoing interest rates, will decline for most. At current interest rates, the average borrower will be able to tap about 58% of the value of the home, down from 64%.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, these changes are needed to ensure the continued viability of the federal reverse mortgage program. Last year, the program was $7.7 billion in the red. Without these changes, a bailout from Congress would be necessary.

Seniors should exercise caution when considering a reverse mortgage. Without sufficient information, a reverse mortgage can place a borrower in significant financial peril. Read more about deceptive reverse mortgage advertising here.

Read more about the October 2 changes to the HECM program here. 

Read HUD information on federally backed reverse mortgages here.

Sep 12, 2017

"Elder Orphans" Need to Plan

The future of America's "elder orphans" is getting increasing attention as we live longer, many of us without the support of a spouse, children, or other close relatives. The 2012 U.S. Census reveals that about  one third of adults ages 45 to 63 are single, a 50% increase from 1980. About 19% of women ages 40-44 have no children, as compared to 10% in 1980. More women than men are likely to stay, or become single. About 80% of women are single after age 85.

Elder orphans obviously face many challenges, not the least of which is who will care for them as they age. Maria Torroella Carney, Chief of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital in New York, has been speaking out on the issue. She suggests those at risk of aging without a spouse or children should start thinking about lifestyle changes that address these challenges. Some of her suggestions appearing in a USA Today article are:
  • Identify an individual who can help make health care decisions for you. It could be a friend or a family member. Have a health care surrogate drawn up for you.
  • Think about where you will be living. Can you get to stores and activities if you can no longer drive?
  • Check out delivery services for medicines, groceries, etc.
  • Check out resources such as recreational facilities, classes and senior centers so that you can be socially active.
  • Think about relocating to be near those who can be supportive.
  • Consider “mending fences” with estranged family members, and reaching out to more distant relatives to establish relationships.

Elder advocate and author Carol Marak, herself aging without a spouse, partner or children, has put together a virtual community for elder orphans. Her Facebook support group welcomes what Marak calls the "solo ager" - individuals over age 55 without a spouse, and who do not receive any support from offspring. In a recent interview on National Public Radio's Here and Now, Marak says the Facebook group involves people "...mostly just sharing what they're feeling each day. We discuss transportation options, emotional things that might be affecting us, how we are feeling about not having children — although most of us are grateful to not have children, because we have members who have been really estranged from their families, which is hard. So, it's just a great place to come and feel accepted, and find friendship and connection. What's so wonderful is that when you start a discussion, you're always going to have someone participate. And you can also pull it offline if you wish, and private message someone, and then take it from there. Many of us are breaking off and starting our own face-to-face groups, which is really, I think, the next step for all of us." 

As of September 2017, the group had 6,357 members. You can listen to Marak's radio interview here.

The Karp Law Firm Offices Have Re-Opened

Sept. 12, 2017

We hope you and yours came through Hurricane Irma safely!

The Karp Law Firm Offices Are Now Open
Palm Beach Gardens - Boynton Beach - Port St. Lucie

We will be seeing everyone with a scheduled appointment. Phones and email are operational.

Please contact us if:
  • You wish to schedule an appointment at any of our offices.
  • You rescheduled your appointment due to the hurricane and would like an appointment sooner than the rescheduled date.

Palm Beach Gardens (561) 625-1100
Boynton Beach (561) 752-4550
Port St. Lucie (772) 343-8411

Thank you for your patience! 

The Attorneys & Staff of The Karp Law Firm
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