Monday, April 24, 2017

Marriage and Aging

Cathy Sears, Law Clerk
My husband and I got married in August and are still in the obnoxiously happy, rarely-spend-time-apart-from-each-other phase of our relationship.  Life as a newlywed is good.

With marriage so much on my mind in recent months, I was surprised when I recently realized that I had never really thought about accommodations for married couples in assisted living facilities or nursing homes.  Yes, I know what I got myself into when I vowed to love my husband “all the days of my life,” but I hadn’t really thought about where our later days might be spent.  Cancer and divorce kept me from growing up with a “complete” set of grandparents, so I’ve really only been exposed to the challenges of aging alone, not as a couple.  Additionally, in my Elder Law classes in law school, I’ve learned about Medicaid planning techniques that are utilized when one spouse needs facility-based care and the other spouse is still able to live at home.  Here too, the assumption is that circumstances will result in the couple living apart from each other.

Obviously, that’s not exactly the scenario that I’d like for my hubby and me.  Granted, I’m sure someday we’ll relish spending time away from each other.  Even now, I recognize – in theory – that it made little sense for both of us to bundle up and brave frigid January weather to buy a few groceries when one of us could have stayed cozily at home.  Still, call me na├»ve, but I can’t help but think that, despite his snoring, I’ll always want to live with him!

Fortunately, I’m not the only helpless romantic who feels this way.  I recently visited a few local assisted living facilities as part of my job and learned more about accommodations that can be made for married couples who seek facility care together.  For example, a facility may offer rooms spacious enough to fit a double bed and two dressers, and it may use a specially-tailored billing structure for a couple instead of simply doubling the fees for a single resident.  Many facilities also offer a variety of different care options, ranging from independent living or assisted living all the way up to skilled nursing care and memory care, which allows spouses who may have very different diagnoses to continue living together as long as possible.

One marketing director told me about a couple who recently celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary in their assisted living facility, complete with a private candle-lit dinner that the staff arranged for them.  Another resident and her husband had been living in the community together until he passed away.  At this difficult time, she was surrounded by people she knew – many of whom had also experienced a similar loss – who served as a great support system for her and helped keep her from being too lonely in her time of mourning.

The moral of the story?  You may be stuck with me longer than you bargained for, hubby dear.

Monday, April 17, 2017

None of Your Business!

Debbie Pecor, Senior Paralegal
How much information is too much information?

There’s a loaded question!  After my grandmother passed, my dad and my aunts asked my grandfather if he had a will.   He replied, “Yes.”  Years later, however, when he passed, there was no will to be found.  Not that it necessarily made a huge difference since he probably would have left his estate in equal shares to his children.  I know what his logic was: his money was his business and none of theirs.

My father always told me that it was none of my business what anyone else was getting paid and it was none of anyone else’s business what I was getting paid.  What a change through the generations!  Today, everything is posted on social media practically before it’s happened!  It’s like no one cares about privacy anymore. 

Estate planning documents, particularly wills and/or trusts, should remain private and not be shared with anyone.  There are just too many instances where your documents could get into the wrong hands.  It is certainly okay to let someone outside the family know if you have named them in a position of authority, but please do not give them a copy of anything.  Instead, simply let them know that you have prepared documents and tell them who they need to contact (the attorney who prepared your documents) if something happens to you, whether it is death, incapacity, or incompetency.  Let’s keep our family matters private as best as we can in this age of almost instant information. 

By the way, my grandfather’s estate was settled with NO arguments, problems or court actions!  And there were NINE children.  That’s almost unheard of in this day and age.  Maybe it was because his children thought the same way he did – it was his business and none of anyone else’s.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act

Helena S. Mock, Esq.
In 2014, the ABLE (“Achieving a Better Life Experience”) Act was signed into law.  The law is aimed at providing a way in which those with special needs can save money without losing needs-based public benefits such as SSI or Medicaid.  While an ABLE account does not replace other options such as special needs trusts, it is a tool that adds an option for us in serving our clients with special needs. 

The ABLE Act is a federal law that allows states to establish a savings program for persons with disabilities.  The program is modeled after the 529 college savings accounts.  ABLE accounts may be used to accumulate savings for use by a disabled beneficiary.  The Act provides a comprehensive list of what the funds may be used for such as education, housing, transportation, employment training and support, assistive technology and personal support services, health, prevention and wellness, financial management and administrative services, legal fees, expenses for oversight and monitoring, and funeral and burial expenses.  Any growth in an ABLE account will not be subject to income tax so long as used for permissible expenditures.

An ABLE account may be established by anyone including a parent, friend, family member or the disabled person him or herself.  The eligible beneficiary of the account must be an individual who meets the standard for disability prior to turning the age of 26.  A recipient of SSI or SSDI would automatically meet the disability requirement, but those who do not receive such benefits must be certified as disabled under the Act.

While the ABLE Act has made strides in bringing to light the issue of saving for those with disabilities, there are some limits.  For example, the annual contribution limit is equal to the annual gift-tax exclusion amount (currently $14,000).  In addition, SSI exempts only the first $100,000 of an ABLE account.  Therefore, if an individual receives SSI, his or her ABLE account may not exceed $100,000; otherwise, the individual will become ineligible to continue receiving SSI, but can remain eligible for Medicaid.

The ABLE account is also a “Medicaid Payback” account.  This means that upon the death of the beneficiary, Medicaid payments made on behalf of the beneficiary subsequent to the establishment of the ABLE account must be reimbursed from any funds remaining in the account.

The ABLE account will not be useful for people who have become disabled due to an accident and who are receiving a judgment or settlement for a significant amount.  And, it doesn’t work for a person with special needs who is receiving a large inheritance.  There are several other instances where an ABLE account is not the answer, and therefore you should consult a qualified special needs planning attorney to discuss all available options and the benefits and limitations of each option to determine what would be best for your individual situation.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Little Unpleasant Conversation Goes a Long Way

Madeline Colthorpe, Receptionist
Let’s face it: estate planning isn’t the best dinnertime conversation.  What better way to destroy a delicious meal than to discuss the passing of the ones you love?  So maybe this discussion doesn’t have to happen during dinner, but it does need to happen.  Although we try to avoid thinking about it, we aren’t going to be around forever.  For many of us, that means leaving behind family and loved ones – people who we would hate to know are fighting someday after our death as a result of the money or possessions we left behind.

Growing up, I had so many fond memories of my grandparents’ house.  Memories of Easter egg hunts in the backyard, Friday night hamburger dinners, crabbing in the canal, and eating Klondike bars while sitting contently in the presence of those I loved.  Then, my grandmother, an eighty-year-old woman who still push-mowed her lawn, fell unexpectedly and left us without even a chance to say goodbye.  What I realize now that I’m older is that she also left us without having the opportunity to discuss her estate planning documents with her children.  My grandmother passed away nine years ago, but my family is still feeling the impact of this missed discussion today.  Although no one would come right out and say it, there is tension in the family that was never there before.  Friday night hamburger dinners are now a thing of the past.  Even worse, no one makes an effort to see one another over the holidays anymore.

Long story short, be proactive.  Although it’s not comfortable, sit your family down and discuss your estate planning documents – talk about how money is going to be divided and what precious possessions, such as jewelry, are going to go to whom.  The passing of a loved one is stressful enough; don’t add to the stress by having this emotional time be the first time your children hear of your decisions.