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Dementia and Guns: A Tragedy Waiting to Happen

It’s common for families of those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia to realize that at some point, their loved one shouldn’t be allowed to drive. But fewer people know that they should exercise the same level of caution when it comes to restricting their loved one’s access to firearms.

This was one of the findings of a May 2018 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine covering firearm ownership among Alzheimer’s patients. The study noted that even though 89% of Americans support restricting access to firearms for those with mental illness, there’s been little attention focused on limiting firearm access among elderly dementia patients. Currently there are no federal gun laws prohibiting the purchase or possession of firearms by persons with dementia. And only two states—Hawaii and Texas—have laws restricting gun access for dementia patients.

A ticking time bomb

This lack of attention comes despite an increasing number of incidents involving elderly dementia patients shooting and killing family members and caregivers after confusing them for intruders. And with so many Baby Boomers now entering retirement age, this dangerous situation could get much worse.

In fact, the number of people with dementia is expected to double to around 14 million in the next 20 years, with the vast majority of those over age 65. Nearly half of people over 65 either own a gun or live with someone who does. So it’s clear that firearm safety should be a top priority for those with elderly family members—even if they don’t currently show any dementia signs.

Just talking about restricting someone’s access to guns can be highly controversial and polarizing. Many people, especially veterans and those in law enforcement, consider guns—and their right to own them—an important part of their identity. Given this, the study’s authors recommended that families should talk with their elderly loved ones early on about the fact that one day they might have to give up their guns. Physicians suggest bringing up the topic of firearms relatively soon after individual’s initial dementia diagnosis.

This discussion should be similar to those related to driving, acknowledging the emotions involved and allowing the person to maintain independence and decision control for as long as it’s safe. Even though this can be a very touchy subject, putting off this discussion can literally be life threatening.

All part of the plan

Since it relates to so many other end-of-life matters, this discussion should take place as part of the overall estate planning process. One way to handle the risk is to create a legally binding agreement laying out a “firearm retirement date” that’s similar to advance directives addressing the elderly relinquishing their driving privileges.

Such an agreement allows the gun owner to name a trusted family member or friend to take ownership of their firearms once they’re reached a certain age or stage of dementia. In this way,the process may seem more like passing on a beloved family heirloom and less like giving up their guns. Moreover, the transfer of certain types of firearms must adhere to strict state and federal regulations. Unless the new owner is in full compliance with these requirements, they could inadvertently violate the law simply by taking possession of the guns.

In light of this risk, you should consider creating a “gun trust,” an estate planning tool specially designed to deal with the ownership of firearms. With a gun trust, the firearm is legally owned by the trust, so most of the transfer requirements are avoided, making it a lot easier for family members to manage access after the original owner’s death.

Indeed, gun trusts can be a valuable planning strategy even for gun owners without dementia. Speak with us to see if a gun trust would be a suitable option for your family. A matter of life and death

If you have an elderly family member with access to guns, you should consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® as soon as possible. We can not only offer guidance on the the most tactful ways to discuss the matter, but also help you set up the appropriate estate planning strategies to ensure the firearms are properly secured and transferred. Given the grave risks involved, managing the elderly’s access to firearms should be taken every bit as seriously—if not more so—as managing their ability to operate motor vehicles. The safety of both your loved one and everyone who cares for them depends on it. Contact us today to learn more about your options.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.That’s why we offer a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session at no charge.

Be On the Look Out for New Medicare Cards

The federal government is issuing new Medicare cards to all Medicare beneficiaries. To prevent fraud and fight identity theft, the new cards will no longer have beneficiaries’ Social Security numbers on them.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is replacing each beneficiary’s Social Security number with a unique identification number, called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI). Each MBI will consist of a combination of 11 randomly generated numbers and upper case letters. The characters are “non-intelligent,” which means they don’t have any hidden or special meaning. The MBI is confidential like the Social Security number and should be kept similarly private.

The CMS will begin mailing the cards in April 2018 in phases based on the state the beneficiary lives in. The new cards should be completely distributed by April 2019. If your mailing address is not up to date, call 800-772-1213, visit www.ssa.gov, or go to a local Social Security office to update it.

The changeover is attracting scammers who are using the introduction of the new cards as a fresh opportunity to separate Medicare beneficiaries from their money. According to Kaiser Health News, the scams to look out for include phone calls with callers:

  • claiming to be from Medicare looking for your direct deposit number and using the new cards as an excuse,
  • asking for your Social Security number to verify information,
  • claiming Medicare recipients need to pay money to receive a temporary card, or
  • threatening to cancel your insurance if you don’t give out your card number.

There is no cost for the new cards. It is important to know that Medicare will never call, email or visit you unless you ask them to, nor will they ask you for money or for your Medicare number. If you receive any calls that seem suspicious, don’t give out any personal information and hang up. You should call 1-800-MEDICARE to report the activity or you can contact your local Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP). To contact your SMP, call 877-808-2468 or visit www.smpresource.org.

For more information about the new cards, click here and here.

For more information about Medicare, click here.

5 Reasons to Hire an Attorney for Medicaid Planning

Many seniors and their families don’t use a lawyer to plan for long-term care or Medicaid, often because they’re afraid of the cost. But a qualified lawyer can help you save money in the long run as well as make sure you are getting the best care for your loved one.

Instead of taking steps based on what you’ve heard from others, doing nothing, or enlisting a non-lawyer referred by a nursing home, you can hire an elder law attorney. Here are a few reasons why you should at least consider this option:

#1 No conflict of interest

When nursing homes refer the families of residents to non-lawyers to assist in preparing the Medicaid application, the preparer has dual loyalties, both to the facility that provides the referrals and to the client applying for benefits. To the extent everyone wants the Medicaid application to be successful, there’s no conflict of interest. But it’s in the nursing home’s interest that the resident pay privately for as long as possible before going on Medicaid, while it’s in the nursing home resident’s interest to protect assets for the resident’s care or for the resident’s spouse or family. A lawyer hired to assist with Medicaid planning and the application has a duty of loyalty only to the client and will do her best to achieve the client’s goals.

#2 Saving money

Nursing homes can cost as much as $15,000 a month in some areas, so it is unusual for legal fees to equal the cost of even one month in the facility. It is not difficult to save this much in long-term care and probate costs. And most attorneys will consult with new clients at little or no cost to determine what might be achieved before the client pays a larger fee.

#3 Deep knowledge and experience

Professionals who work in any field on a daily basis over many years develop both the depth and breadth of experience and expertise to advise clients on how they might achieve their goals, whether those are maintaining independence and dignity, preserving funds for children and grandchildren, or staying home rather than moving to assisted living or a nursing home. Less experienced advisers, however well intentioned, can’t know what they don’t know.

#4 Malpractice insurance

While we should expect that every professional we work with will provide outstanding service and representation, sometimes things don’t work out. Fortunately there is a remedy if an attorney makes a mistake because almost all attorneys carry malpractice insurance. This is probably not the case with other advisers in the Medicaid arena.

#5 Peace of mind

While it’s possible that when you consult with an elder law attorney, the attorney will advise you that in your situation there is not much you can do to preserve assets or achieve Medicaid eligibility more quickly, the consultation will provide peace of mind that you have not missed an important opportunity. In addition, if obstacles arise during the process, the attorney will be there to work with you to find the optimal solution.

Medicaid rules provide multiple opportunities for nursing home residents to preserve assets for themselves, their spouses and children and grandchildren, especially those with special needs. There are more opportunities for those who plan ahead, but even at the last minute there are almost always still steps available to preserve some assets. It’s always worth checking out whether these are steps you would like to take.

 

Important Changes in Veterans’ Long-Term Care Benefits

It’s now harder than ever for veterans to qualify for long-term care benefits.

Recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) finalized new rules that make it more difficult to qualify for long-term care benefits. The rules establish an asset limit, a look-back period, and asset transfer penalties for claimants applying for VA pension benefits that require a showing of financial need. The main benefit for those needing long-term care is Aid and Attendance.

The VA offers Aid and Attendance to low-income veterans (or their spouses) who are in nursing homes or who need help at home with everyday tasks like dressing or bathing. Aid and Attendance provides money to those who need assistance.

Currently, to be eligible for Aid and Attendance a veteran (or the veteran’s surviving spouse) must meet certain income and asset limits. The asset limits aren’t specified, but $80,000 is the amount usually used. However, unlike with the Medicaid program, there historically have been no penalties if an applicant divests him- or herself of assets before applying. That is, before now you could transfer assets over the VA’s limit before applying for benefits and the transfers would not affect eligibility.

New Regulations in Effect October 18, 2018

Not so anymore. The new regulations set a net worth limit of $123,600, which is the current maximum amount of assets (in 2018) that a Medicaid applicant’s spouse is allowed to retain. But in the case of the VA, this number will include both the applicant’s assets and income. It will be indexed to inflation in the same way that Social Security increases. An applicant’s house (up to a two-acre lot) will not count as an asset even if the applicant is currently living in a nursing home. Applicants will also be able to deduct medical expenses — now including payments to assisted living facilities, as a result of the new rules — from their income.

Three-Year Look-Back Provisions

The regulations also establish a three-year look-back provision. Applicants will have to disclose all financial transactions they were involved in for three years before the application. Applicants who transferred assets to put themselves below the net worth limit within three years of applying for benefits will be subject to a penalty period that can last as long as five years. This penalty is a period of time during which the person who transferred assets is not eligible for VA benefits. There are exceptions to the penalty period for fraudulent transfers and for transfers to a trust for a child who is unable to “self-support.”

Under the new rules, the VA will determine a penalty period in months by dividing the amount transferred that would have put the applicant over the net worth limit by the maximum annual pension rate (MAPR) for a veteran with one dependent in need of aid and attendance. For example, assume the net worth limit is $123,600 and an applicant has a net worth of $115,000. The applicant transferred $30,000 to a friend during the look-back period. If the applicant had not transferred the $30,000, his net worth would have been $145,000, which exceeds the net worth limit by $21,400. The penalty period will be calculated based on $21,400, the amount the applicant transferred that put his assets over the net worth limit (145,000-123,600).

The new rules went into effect on October 18, 2018. The VA will disregard asset transfers made before that date. Applicants may still have time to get through the process before the rules are in place.

Veterans or their spouses who think they may be affected by the new rules should contact their attorney immediately.

This article is a service of the Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we guide our clients to make the best choices for themselves and their loved ones.

Estate Planning Mistakes Seniors (Including You or Your Parents) Can’t Afford to Make

couple, elderly, man

It’s no secret that many of us put off estate planning. But once you or your parents reach senior status, you really can’t afford to put it off any longer. Unfortunately, without proper planning, seniors can lose everything, even if they have family to look after them. Having a will isn’t enough.

More and more, the media is highlighting stories of seniors being taken advantage of, and even being targeted by unscrupulous professional guardians. The New Yorker  recently published an article about many seniors in Nevada that were targeted by professional guardians, had their rights and property stripped away, and were isolated from their own families.

While planning for your incapacity and death can be scary, it’s even scarier to think of all the horrible things that can happen to your family if don’t have the right planning in place.

Here are a some of the most common mistakes that seniors make:

Mistake #1: Not creating advance medical directives

In your senior years, health care matters become much more relevant and urgent. At this age, you can no longer afford to put off important decisions related to your medical needs. How do you want your medical care handled if you become incapacitated and can’t communicate your wishes? And at the end of life, how do you want your medical care handled? You can address both of these situations with a Designation of Health Care Surrogate and a Living Will.

With the Designation of Health Care Surrogate, you appoint a health care decisionmaker that can step in for you when you can’t make your own health care decisions. With the Living Will, you provide guidelines for what medical care you want or don’t want at the end of your life. You can even include other instructions, such as who can visit you.

Mistake #2: Relying only on a will

Many people mistakenly believe that a will is the only estate planning tool they need. While wills are definitely one key aspect of estate planning, they come with some serious limitations:

● Wills require your family to go through probate, which is open to the public, can be time consuming and expensive.
● Wills don’t offer you any protection if you become incapacitated and unable to make legal and financial decisions.
● Wills don’t cover jointly owned assets or those with beneficiary designations, such as life insurance policies.
● Wills don’t shield assets from your creditors or those of your heirs.
● Wills don’t provide protections or guidance for when and how your heirs take control of their inheritance.

Mistake #3: Not keeping your plan current

Far too often people prepare a will or trust when they’re young, put it into a drawer, and forget about it. But your estate plan is worthless if you don’t regularly update it when your assets, family situation, and/or the laws change.

We recommend you review your plan at least every three years to make sure it’s up to date and immediately amend it following events like divorce, deaths, births, and inheritances. And if you have a trust in place, you need to make sure that you’re using it properly. Many people who have trusts aren’t using them effectively, leaving their property vulnerable to probate or mismanagement.

Mistake #4: Not pre-planning funeral arrangements

Although most people don’t want to think about their own funerals, pre-planning these services is a key facet of estate planning, especially for seniors. By taking care of your funeral arrangements ahead of time, you not only eliminate the burden and expense for your family, you’re able to make your memorial ceremony more meaningful, as well.

In addition to basic wishes, such as whether you prefer to be buried or cremated, you can choose what kind of memorial service you want—simple, elaborate, or maybe none at all. Are there songs you want played? Prayers or poems recited? Do you have a specific burial plot or a spot where you want your ashes scattered?

Pre-planning these things can help relieve significant stress and sadness for your family, while also ensuring your memory is honored exactly how you want. It’s important that you take care of your estate planning immediately and avoid these common mistakes. Our firm can walk you step-by-step through the process, ensuring that you have everything in place to protect yourself, your assets, and your family.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she helps her clients make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for themselves and the people they love. Contact Myrna today at (813) 514-2946.

Strategic Retirement Planning

Are you approaching retirement, and questioning how you can ensure a smooth transition from working life to retired life?  Walking away from regular paychecks and employer-provided benefits can feel a little nerve-wracking. You can minimize the impact of these major life changes though by planning accordingly, and by keeping these things in mind.

Time It

Get your timing right. Review and understand your employer’s policies on 401(k) matching and profit sharing. Make sure you plan to retire at a time when you can reap all the vested benefits you have coming to you before they expire. Sit down with your company’s HR department to discuss your retirement benefits.

Bridge the Insurance Gap

If you are retiring before the age of 65, you could have a lapse in insurance coverage before you are eligible for Medicare. If your employer, like most employers, doesn’t offer retiree health insurance benefits, look into COBRA insurance to extend your current coverage, or an individual insurance plan to carry you over until Medicare kicks in. Don’t forget about life insurance and long-term care insurance either. If you do not have an insurance advisor you trust, we can refer you to someone, and we can also provide an objective backstop review on any insurance you do have in place to make sure it’s the right amounts and right types for you.

Petition for Your Pension

Apply for your pension at least five months before you retire. Get a benefits statement, and consider your payout options if you have them (e.g. lump sum vs. annuity). Coordinate your pension payout to minimize your tax liability while still meeting your financial needs.

Rearrange Your Retirement Funds

Consider the pros and cons of consolidating accounts and rolling 401(k) funds into an IRA for more investment freedom and easier management. Some retirees find the investment options with employer-provided 401(k)s are cheaper than those bought independently. Make sure you discuss your options with a financial professional and choose the option that maximizes your income and gives you the flexibility you need. As always it is important, of course, to ensure your beneficiary designations are set up to make sure your retirement benefits go exactly where you choose.

Closing Thoughts

Planning a strategic retirement takes forethought, but make sure you don’t short sell yourself on all the perks you may be owed. Make sure you take advantage of all the benefits your employer offers and carefully plan how you will manage your retirement income to minimize tax liabilities. Following these simple steps can help ensure you are financially prepared for retirement.

Attorney Myrna Serrano Setty realizes that estate planning has many moving parts that are impacted by life changes, like retirement.  And that is why she works with a network of trusted advisors in the insurance, tax and financial planning fields. If you haven’t already done so, contact our firm to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session. We’ll get you thinking about what you own, what matters most to you and help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.