Estate Planning Blog Articles

Estate & Business Planning Law Firm Serving the Providence & Cranston, RI Areas

Should Vets Be on Look-out for COVID Vaccine Scams?

Officials from Operation Protect Veterans — a joint effort from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and AARP that works on scams targeting veterans and military members — said they have seen a recent uptick in the number of illicit offers for veterans to “cut in the vaccination line,” if they provide cash to third-party groups.

Military Times’ recent article entitled “Warning: Post Office sees rise in COVID vaccination scams targeting veterans” says that the group also warned of scammers offering “cash payments or other incentives around obtaining a COVID vaccination.”

VA officials will reimburse veterans for the cost of vaccines by the department’s Foreign Medical Program. However, they do not help them find vaccine appointments.

Legislation approved last month by Congress allows all veterans, their spouses and caregivers to get coronavirus vaccines through the Department of Veterans Affairs free of cost. The timing and availability of those shots depends on local supplies.

However, VA officials have stressed the fact that people do not need to pay to receive a dose. Any outside group promising quicker delivery in exchange for cash are taking advantage of confused or frustrated veterans.

“In addition to many of the same scams that fraudsters use to target veterans, we’re now seeing more ‘timely’ scams, like those related to COVID,” said Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale in a statement.

“And as May is Military Appreciation Month, it’s a great time for everyone to become informed and spread the word about scams targeting veterans in order to, in some small way, help repay the tremendous debt we all owe those who have served.”

An AARP survey from 2017 found that vets are twice as likely to be victims of scammers as the general public. The survey found that one in six veterans reported losing money to a bogus offer of benefits or assistance.

The U.S. Postal Service cautions vets not to divulge their personal information over the phone to strangers, especially bank account numbers, credit card numbers or Social Security numbers.

Moreover, they also said any veteran with questions about an unsolicited offer or program should check out the deal with a family member, friend, or local Veterans Affairs office.

Anyone who demands veterans act immediately on such a transaction are like scammers.

More information on scams and protections for vets is available at the Postal Inspection Service web site.

Reference: Military Times (April 30, 2021) “Warning: Post Office sees rise in COVID vaccination scams targeting veterans”

Can a Person with Alzheimer’s Sign Legal Documents?

If a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or any other form of dementia, it is necessary to address legal and financial issues as soon as possible. The person’s ability to sign documents and take other actions to protect themselves and their assets will be limited as the disease progresses, so there’s no time to wait. This recent article “Financial steps to take when dealing with Alzheimer’s” from Statesville Record & Landmark explains the steps to take.

Watch for Unusual Financial Activity

Someone who has been sensible about money for most of his life may start to behave differently with his finances. This is often an early sign of cognitive decline. If bills are piling up, or unusual purchases are being made, you may need to prepare to take over his finances. It should be noted that unusual financial activity can also be a sign of elder financial abuse.

Designate a Power of Attorney

The best time to designate a person to take care of finances is before she shows signs of dementia. It’s not an easy conversation, but it is very important. Someone needs to be identified who can be trusted to manage day-to-day money matters, who can sign checks, pay bills and supervise finances. If possible, it may be easier if the POA gradually eases into the role, only taking full control when the person with dementia can no longer manage on her own.

An individual needs to be legally competent to complete or update legal documents including wills, trusts, an advanced health care directive and other estate planning documents. Once such individual is not legally competent, the court must be petitioned to name a family member as a guardian, or a guardian will be appointed by the court. It is far easier for the family and the individual to have this handled by an estate planning attorney in advance of incompetency.

An often-overlooked detail in cases of Alzheimer’s is the beneficiary designations on retirement, financial and life insurance policies. Check with an estate planning attorney for help, if there is any question that changes may be challenged by the financial institution or by heirs.

Cost of Care and How It Will Be Paid

At a certain point, people with dementia cannot live on their own. Even those who love them cannot care for them safely. Determining how care will be provided, which nursing facility has the correct resources for a person with cognitive illness and how to pay for this care, must be addressed. An elder law estate planning attorney can help the family navigate through the process, including helping to protect family assets through the use of trusts and other planning strategies.

If the family has a strong history of Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive diseases, it makes sense to do this sort of preparation far in advance. The sooner it can be addressed, even long before dementia symptoms appear, the better the outcome will be.

Reference: Statesville Record & Landmark (April 11, 2021) “Financial steps to take when dealing with Alzheimer’s”

Court Victory for Adults Caring for Parents at Home

A New Jersey Appellate Division recently reaffirmed the state’s regulation that allows older adults to transfer their homes to adult caregiver children without Medicaid penalty, reports an article titled “Major Victory for Adults Who Provide Home Care for Parents” from The National Law Review. The regulation permits the home to be transferred with no Medicaid penalty, when the adult child has provided care to the parent for a period of two years. This allows the parents to remain at home under the care of their children, delaying the need to enter a long-term care facility.

New Jersey Medicaid has tried to narrow this rule for many years, claiming that the regulation only applies to caregivers who did not work outside of the home. This decision, along with other cases, recognizes that caregivers qualify if they meet the requirements of the regulation, regardless of whether they work outside of the home.

The court held that the language of the regulations requires only that:

  • The adult child must live with the parent for two years, prior to the parent moving into a nursing facility.
  • The child provided special care that allowed the parent to live at home when the parent would otherwise need to move out of their own home and into a nursing care facility.
  • The care provided by the adult child was more than personal support activities and was essential for the health and safety of the parent.

In the past, qualifying to transfer a home to an adult caregiver child was met by a huge obstacle: the caregiver was required to either provide all care to the parents or pay for any care from their own pockets. This argument has now been firmly rejected in the decision A.M. v. Monmouth County Board of Social Services.

The court held that there was nothing in the regulation requiring the child to be the only provider of care, and the question of who paid for additional care was completely irrelevant legally.

It is now clear that as long as the child personally provides essential care without which the parent would need to live in a nursing facility, then the fact that additional caregivers may be needed does not preclude the ability to transfer the home to the adult child.

The decision is a huge shift, and one that elder law estate planning attorneys have fought over for years, as there have been increasingly stricter interpretation of the rule by New Jersey Medicaid.

While Medicaid is a federal program, each state has the legal right to set its own eligibility requirements. This New Jersey Appellate Court decision is expected to have an influence over other states’ decisions in similar circumstances. Since every state is different, adult children should speak with an elder law estate planning attorney about how the law of their parent’s state of residence would apply if they were facing this situation.

Reference: The National Law Review (March 22, 2021) “Major Victory for Adults Who Provide Home Care for Parents”

Suggested Key Terms: 

How to Avoid Medicaid Estate Recovery

Medicaid is a government program that helps seniors and others pay for long term care. However, it’s not always free, explains the article “What Is Medicaid Estate Recovery?” from AOL.com. The Medicaid Estate Recovery Program (MERP) is used by states to recover costs from estates with funds. The goal of Medicaid estate recovery is to make the program affordable for the government, but it can have a severe impact on the beneficiaries of Medicaid recipients. An estate planning elder law attorney should be contacted, if you believe you or a loved one may need Medicaid.

Seniors are eligible for Medicare when they turn 65. This program pays for many healthcare expenses, but not for long-term care in a nursing home. Medicaid is used when someone does not have long term care insurance or enough money to pay for long-term care out of pocket. Medicaid can also be used for long-term or nursing home care, if steps have been taken to protect assets. This usually includes strategies, like trusts and Medicaid Asset Protection Trusts (MAPT).

A federal law passed in 1993 (the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) requires states to attempt to seek reimbursement from a Medicaid beneficiary’s estate after they have died. Some of the costs that the state will try to recover include:

  • Nursing home costs
  • Home and community-based services
  • Medical services received through a hospital where the recipient is a long-term care patient
  • Prescription drug services for long-term care recipient

The recovery program lets Medicaid pursue any eligible assets owned by the estate. While this depends upon where you live, any assets that are part of the probate estate could be attached, including:

  • Bank accounts
  • Your home or other real estate
  • Vehicles or other real property

In addition, some states allow Medicaid to recover assets that are not subject to probate, including jointly held accounts, Payable-On-Death (POD) bank accounts, real estate owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, living trusts and any other assets that the Medicaid recipient had a legal interest in.

An estate planning elder care attorney in your state will know what types of assets your state tends to pursue and will help you understand what can and cannot be used for Medicaid benefit recovery.

Note that while Medicaid cannot take the primary residence while the recipient is still living, they can place a lien on the home. If the recipient passes away and a beneficiary inherits the home, they will not be able to sell the property until the lien has been satisfied.

For beneficiaries, Medicaid recovery means a smaller inheritance. However, that’s not the only thing to be mindful of. There are laws known as “filial responsibility laws” that allow healthcare providers to sue the children of long-term care recipients to recover nursing care costs. This is not commonly done as of this writing, but the costs of COVID may change this in the near future.

Strategic planning can help you or loved ones avoid the financial impact of Medicaid estate recovery. If you are eligible and can afford to buy a long-term care policy, that may help to cover most of the cost of care. Another option is to remove as many assets from the probate process as possible. An estate planning attorney will be able to help you create a plan to protect your assets.

Reference: AOL.com (February 5, 2021) “What Is Medicaid Estate Recovery?”

 

letter of instruction

Should You Include a Letter of Instruction with Your Estate Plan?

A letter of instruction, or LOI, is a good addition to the documents included in your estate plan. It’s commonly used to express advice, wishes and practical information to help the people who will be taking care of your affairs, if you become incapacitated or die. According to this recent article “Letter of instruction in elder law estate plan can help with managing important information” from the Times Herald-Record, there are many different ways an LOI can help.

In our digital world, you might want to use your LOI to record website names, usernames and passwords for social media accounts, online accounts and other digital assets. This helps loved ones who you want to have access to your online life.

If you have minor children who are beneficiaries, the LOI is a good way to share your priorities to the trustee on your wishes for the funds left for their care. It is common to leave money in trust for HEMS—for “Health, Education, Maintenance and Support.” However, you may want to be more specific, both about how money is to be spent and to share your thoughts about the path you’d like their lives to take in your absence.

Art collectors or anyone who owns valuable items, like musical instruments, antiques or collectibles may use the LOI as an inventory that will be greatly appreciated by your executor. By providing a carefully created list of the items and any details, you’ll increase the likelihood that the collections will be considered by a potential purchaser. This would also be a good place to include any resources about the collections that you know of, but your heirs may not, like appraisers.

Animal lovers can use an LOI to share personalities, likes, dislikes and behavioral quirks of beloved pets, so their new caregivers will be better prepared. In most states, a pet trust can be created to name a caregiver and a trustee for funds that are designated for the pet’s care. The caregiver and the trustee may be the same person, or they may be two different individuals.

For families who have a special needs member, an LOI is a useful means of sharing important information about the person and is often referred to as a “Letter of Intent.” It works in tandem with a Special Needs Trust, which is created to leave assets to a person who receives government benefits without putting means-tested benefits in jeopardy. If there is no Special Needs Trust and the person receives an inheritance, they could lose access to their benefits.

Some of the information in a Letter of Intent includes information on the nature of the disability, daily routines, medications, fears, preferred activities and anything that would help a caregiver provide better care, if the primary caregiver dies.

The LOI can also be used to provide basic information, like where important documents are kept, who should be notified in case of death or incapacity, which bills should be paid, what home maintenance tasks need to be taken care of and who provides the services, etc. It is a useful document to help those you leave behind to adjust to their new responsibilities and care for loved ones.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Sep. 8, 2020) “Letter of instruction in elder law estate plan can help with managing important information”

elder financial abuse

Elder Financial Abuse Risk Increasing for Seniors Isolated by Pandemic

The extended isolation and loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic is creating the perfect storm for financial exploitation of seniors, who are unable to visit with family members and friends, reports Fredericksburg Today in the article “SCC urges awareness of investment fraud among seniors due to increased pandemic isolation.” The unprecedented need to forgo socializing makes seniors who are already at risk, even more vulnerable.

In the past, scammers would deliberately strike during a health crisis or after the death of a loved one. By gathering data from obituaries and social media, even establishing relationships with support and social groups, scammers can work their way into seniors’ lives.

Social distancing and the isolation necessary to protect against the spread of the coronavirus has left many seniors vulnerable to people posing as their new friends. The perpetrators may not just be strangers: family members are often the ones who exploit the elderly. The pandemic has also led to changes in procedures in care facilities, which can lead to increased confusion and dependence for the elderly, who do not always do well with changes.

Here are a few key markers for senior financial abuse:

  • A new friend or caregiver who is overly protective and has gotten the person to surrender control of various aspects of their life, including but not limited to finances.
  • Fear or a sudden change in how they feel towards family members and/or friends.
  • A reluctance to discuss financial matters, especially if they say the new friend told them not to talk about their money with others.
  • Sudden changes in spending habits, or unexplained changes to wills, new trustees, or changes to beneficiary designations.
  • Large checks made out to cash, or the disappearance of assets.
  • Signatures on checks or estate planning documents that appear different than past signatures.

Not being able to visit in person makes it harder for family members to discern what is happening.  However, there are a few steps that can be taken by concerned family members. Stay in touch with the family member, by phone, video calls, texts or any means possible. Remind loved ones that scammers are always looking for an opportunity and may try to exploit them during the pandemic.

Every community has resources that can help, if elder financial abuse is a concern. An elder law estate planning attorney will be able to direct concerned family members or friends to local resources to protect their loved ones.

Reference: Fredericksburg Today (June 20, 2020) “SCC urges awareness of investment fraud among seniors due to increased pandemic isolation”

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