Seniors
Older Adults Head Back to School | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 July 2015 14:22

071615sen1By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

If you know where to look, there’s quite a bit of financial assistance out there that can help working baby boomers and retirees go back to school. To help you find it:

• Fill out the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA). This will help you learn about grants, federal student loans (which are a better option than private student loans), and even work-study jobs.

But, be aware that for most types of federal financial aid you will need to be enrolled at least half time in a degree or academic program to be eligible. To learn more or to fill out an application online, visit fafsa.gov. Or, call 800-433-3243 and request a paper FAFSA.

•Search for scholarships: A number of national and local scholarships are offered specifically to older, non-traditional students. To find them, try fastweb.com and scholarships.com. Both sites will prompt you to enter your birth date to find ones that are age appropriate.

• Call the financial aid office at the college you plan to attend to see if they offer any other financial aid options you may be eligible for. Also, find out if they offer any special tuition wavers or discounts for students over age 50. Many community colleges and some four-year colleges offer discounted tuition rates, and many allow older students to audit courses for free.

• Seek a tax break: Uncle Sam may also be able to help you with a tax credit, like the annual $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit, or the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, which is worth up to $2,000 per year. Or, if you’re not eligible for the tax credits, the government also provides tuition and fees deductions for students that can cover up to $4,000 in expenses.

To learn more, visit the IRS’s Tax Benefits for Education Information Center at irs.gov – type in “tax benefits for education” in the search bar to find it. Or call 800-829-3676 and request a copy of IRS Publication 970: Tax Benefits for Education (irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p970.pdf).

• Open up a 529 college-savings plan for yourself (see savingforcollege.com) if you don’t plan to go back to school right away. Available in every state, 529s allow you to save money for college tax-free. And in many states you can even deduct part or all of your contribution on your state tax return.

• Sign up for a free or low cost “Massively Open Online Courses,” which offers thousands of certificate and no-certificate courses by the best universities around the world. MOOCs offer a free or cheap way to learn from their instructors anytime, anywhere. See mooc-list.com to search for courses.

• Consider lifelong learning: If you’re interested in taking classes just for fun, consider Lifelong Learning Institutes (LLIs). These are noncredit educational programs designed for retirees that involve no tests or grades, just learning for the pure joy of it.

Usually affiliated with colleges and universities, LLIs offer a wide array of courses in such areas as literature, history, religion, philosophy, science, art and architecture, finance, computers and more. The websites of two organizations that support and facilitate them are osher.net and roadscholar.org/ein/intro.asp.

 

 
How to Choose the Best Place to Retire | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 July 2015 14:19

By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

If you’re interested in relocating when you retire, like millions of other baby boomers, there are a wide variety of free internet-based resources that can help you find and research a new location that meets your wants, needs and budget. Here are several to help you get started.

Where to Retire?

If you aren’t sure where you want to retire, a good place to begin is by taking a retirement test at sites like Sperling’s Best Places (bestplaces.net/fybp) or Find Your Spot (findyourspot.com). These are free quizzes that ask dozens of questions on your preferences such as climate, recreation, community size and more, and suggest possible destinations that best match your answers.

There are also various media sources and websites, like U.S. News and World Report, Kiplinger’s, Forbes, Money magazine, Reuters, Bankrate.com, TopRetirements.com, the Milken Institute and AARP that publish top retirement location lists you may find helpful too. To find them, go to any search engine and type in “best places to retire” along with the name of the media source.

You should also consider getting a subscription to “Where to Retire” magazine (wheretoretire.com, 713-974-6903), which is designed to help you find ideal retirement settings. A yearly subscription runs $18 for six issues.

Once you find a few areas that interest you, your next step is to research them. Here are some important areas you need to investigate.

Cost of living: Can you afford to live comfortably in the location you want to retire to? BestPlaces.net and Numbeo.com offer tools to compare the cost of living from your current location to where you would like to move. They compare housing costs, food, utilities, transportation and more.

Taxes: Some states are more tax friendly to retirees than others. If you’re planning to move to another state, Kiplinger’s has a tax guide for retirees at Kiplinger.com/links/retireetaxmap that lets you find and compare taxes state-by-state. It covers income taxes, sales tax, taxes on retirement income, Social Security benefits taxes, property taxes, and inheritance and estate taxes.

Crime rate: To evaluate how safe a community or area is, NeighborhoodScout.com is a top tool that provides property and violent crime rates, and crimes per square mile.

Healthcare: Does the area you want to relocate to have easy access to good healthcare? To locate and research hospitals in a new area, use HospitalCompare.hhs.gov and QualityCheck.org. To search for new doctors that accept your insurance, contact your plan, or, if you’re 65 or older use Medicare.gov/physiciancompare. It’s also important to know that healthcare costs can vary by region, so you should contact your insurer to check out possible cost variables.

Transportation: If you plan to travel much, or expect frequent visits from your kids or grandkids, convenient access to an airport or train station is a nice advantage. You should also investigate alternative transportation options, since most retirees give up driving in there eighties. To do this contact Rides in Sight (ridesinsight.org, 855-607-4337), a free transportation referral service, and the Area Aging Agency – call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get the local number.

Other Resources

To learn more about specific communities across the U.S., AARP’s new livability index (livabilityindex.aarp.org) along with Epodunk.com and GangsAway.com are three excellent resources, as well as the city’s chamber of commerce office. To locate it, go to any search engine and type in the name of the city and state followed by “chamber of commerce.”

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.


 
Unique Long-term Care Policy Offers Asset Protection | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 July 2015 14:14

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Q: While shopping for long-term care insurance, I heard something about a special kind of policy that offers asset protection by coordinating with Medi-Cal. Do you know anything about that?

A: Yes, you refer to the California Long-Term Care Partnership Plan — California was one of the first states in the country to put together a very unique long-term care insurance policy as a kind of partnership involving the state, the individual, and selected insurance companies.

The program was designed to encourage individuals to purchase long-term care insurance and thereby shift much of the cost of long-term care away from public benefits programs and on to the individual and his insurance carrier.

The inducement is the offer of a high-quality policy with automatic inflation protection and a corresponding Medi-Cal asset protection feature. To understand how the policy works, let’s review how Medi-Cal works:

Background: Generally speaking, in order to qualify for a Medi-Cal long-term care subsidy in a nursing facility, single individuals generally cannot have more than $2,000 in savings, and a married couple no more than approximately $120,000. They may also have certain exempt assets, such as a home.

However, if their savings exceed these resource ceilings, they must generally spend them down on care until they fall below those ceilings. Only then will they be eligible for a Medi-Cal subsidy.

However, if an individual owns a Partnership Policy, the amount of the policy payout for care expenses increases the insured’s Medi-Cal resource ceiling by that same amount, thereby accelerating his later eligibility for Medi-Cal and protecting that same amount from later Medi-Cal recovery.

Example: Jane and Mary are both age 65, each has $175,000 in savings and each owns her own home. Jane buys a Partnership Policy and Mary buys a Non-Partnership policy. Both policies provide for two years of benefits and both have inflation protection.

At age 85, both need nursing home care and both begin to draw policy benefits. Because of inflation, the cost of care for those two years has increased to approximately $500,000, of which approximately $450,000 was paid by insurance. After two years, their insurance benefits are exhausted and both turn to Medi-Cal for help:

Medi-Cal Without “Spend Down”: Because Jane had purchased a Partnership Policy, she is allowed to keep $450,000 plus the normal $2,000 for a total of $452,000 in resources and immediately qualify for Medi-Cal. Because Mary had not purchased a Partnership Policy, Medi-Cal requires that she first spend down her assets to no more than $2,000 before becoming eligible, essentially forcing her to deplete her estate.

Protection From Estate Recovery: After qualification, both Jane and Mary continue to receive a Medi-Cal subsidy for the rest of their lives. At their deaths, Medi-Cal files a claim against Mary’s estate to recover benefits paid, and the recovery claim eats up most of her estate. But because Jane had purchased a Partnership Policy, her estate is protected up to the amount of $450,000, the amount of her policy payout, allowing Jane to leave most of her estate to her designated beneficiaries free of any Medi-Cal recovery claim.

For those considering the purchase of long-term care insurance, it makes sense to consider a Partnership Plan Policy. With advance planning, it can be a viable alternative to Medi-Cal planning in a crisis. For more information, visit www.RUReadyCA.org. For free counseling, contact  HICAP at 510-839-0393 or 1-800-434-0222 and ask for a Long Term Care HICAP Counselor.

Gene L. Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward.  Visit his website at www.LawyerForSeniors.com.


 
Companies Make Cellphones Senior Friendly | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 July 2015 11:09

070215senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

There are several simplified cellphones on the market today that are specifically designed for seniors — including those with hearing loss.

These are basic cellphones that come with big buttons, easy-to-navigate menus, SOS emergency buttons, enhanced sound and hearing aid compatible, too. Here are some top options.

Senior-friendly Phones

If your not locked into a cellphone contract, there are three senior-friendly options to consider, all from no-contract cellphone companies.

One of the best is GreatCall’s Jitterbug5 (greatcall.com, 800-918-8543). This custom designed Samsung flip-phone offers a backlit keypad with big buttons, large text on a brightly colored screen, and “YES” and “NO” buttons to access the phone’s menu of options versus confusing icons.

It also offers voice dialing, a powerful speakerphone, a built-in camera, and a variety of optional health and safety features like the “5Star” medical alert button that would let you call for help and speak to a certified agent 24/7 that could identify your location and dispatch help as needed; “Urgent Care,” which provides access to registered nurses and doctors for advice and diagnoses; and “GreatCall Link,” which keeps family members informed through your parent’s phone activities.

The Jitterbug5 sells for $99 with a one-time $35 activation fee, no-contract, and calling plans that start at $15 per month.

If you’re looking for something a little less expensive, the Doro PhoneEasy 626 sold through Consumer Cellular (consumercellular.com, 888-345-5509) is an excellent option.

This flip phone offers a backlit, separated keypad that can speak the numbers as you push them, which is a nice feature for seniors with vision problems. It also has a big, easy-to-read color display screen that offers large text with different color themes.

Other handy features include two speed-dial buttons, shortcut buttons to texting and the camera, a powerful two-way speakerphone, and an ICE (in case of emergency) button on the back of the phone that will automatically dial one preprogramed number.

The Doro 626 sells for $50 with service plans starting at $10 per month, and no long-term contract. They also offer discounts to AARP members.

Another budget-friendly cellphone you should look into is the Snapfon ezTWO for seniors (snapfon.com, 800-937-1532), which costs under $20, with a $35 activation fee, no-contract, and monthly service plans that start at $10. If you don’t want the Snapfon service plan (you can go through AT&T or T-Mobile), the phone is $80.

This is a bar-style phone that provides big buttons, a color screen, enhanced volume with a speaker phone, a speaking keypad, and an SOS emergency alert button on the back of the phone that can sound an alert when pushed and held down for five seconds. It then sends a text message to as many as five emergency contacts and calls those contacts in order until the call is answered. Or, for an additional $15 per month, you can subscribe to their SOS monitoring service that will dispatch help as needed.

Shared Plan Options

If you want to get a simple cellphone through your cellphone provider, most carriers — like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile — still offer a few basic cellphones that are inexpensive and hearing aid compatible.

If you’re an AT&T customer, the option is the “LG A380.” For Verizon users, there’s the “Samsung Gusto 3” and “LG Revere 3.” If you’re a Sprint customer, there’s the “Kyocera Kona” and “Alcatel OneTouch Retro.” And, for T-Mobile users, there’s the “LG 450.”

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior.”


 
Law Allows Retention of Parents’ Tax Rate | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 July 2015 11:05

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Q: My mom owned her home for 35 years before she recently passed. Her trust leaves it, 50-50, to my brother and me. I would like to keep the home by purchasing my brother’s interest for cash, and he is okay with that. Is there a way that we can do this without triggering a property tax reassessment?

A: Yes there is! However, the matter must be handled in a special way.

Background: Prop. 13, which California voters passed in the 1970s to hold the line on property taxes, nevertheless, allowed the County Assessor to reassess property whenever there is a “change in ownership.” Prop. 58, which the voters adopted later, provided that a transfer of a home between parent and child would not be considered a “change in ownership,” provided that a Claim for Reassessment Exclusion were timely filed.

Under these Propositions, your purchase of your brother’s 50-percent interest using your own money would be deemed a “change in ownership” as to that portion, because it would be deemed a non-exempt transfer between siblings, rather than a parent-child transfer. Your purchase would then trigger a reassessment as to that 50 percent.

Good news, however! There is a workaround that has been approved by the California State Board of Equalization (BOE). If, rather than using your own money, the trustee of the trust borrows money from a third-party lender, securing that loan by the home, and then distributes the entire home to you (encumbered by the loan amount) and an equivalent value in cash to your brother, there would then be no change in ownership and no reassessment. You would then be responsible for the loan.

To illustrate how this applies in various fact patterns, consider the following scenarios. In each case, assume that the home has a value of $500,000, that the trust does not prohibit a non-pro rata division of assets, that it permits the trustee to borrow money, and that a timely Claim for Reassessment Exclusion is filed:

• The only asset in the trust is the home. At the conclusion of trust administration, it is allocated by deed, 50-50, to you and your brother. No change in ownership; No reassessment.

• The trust is comprised of the home and $500,000 in cash. The home goes to you and all the cash to your brother. Same result as above: No reassessment.

• The only asset in the trust is the home. Trustee borrows $250,000 from a third-party lender, and distributes the home encumbered by the loan to you and the $250,000 in cash to your brother. Same result: No reassessment.

• The trust is comprised of the home and $100,000 in cash, for a total trust estate of $600,000. Trustee borrows $200,000 from a third-party lender, and distributes the home, encumbered by the loan, to you and $300,000 in cash to your brother. Same result: No reassessment.

Note: These transactions must be handled very carefully, with a suitable lender engaged and adequate documentation furnished to the County Assessor. This is not a do-it-yourself project, and it is strongly recommended that these transactions be fully supervised by an attorney familiar with trust administration.

If handled correctly, preserving a parent’s low property tax base can result in thousands of dollars in savings over time and help make retention of the family home more affordable.

Gene L. Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward.  Visit his website at www.LawyerForSeniors.com.


 
Utilize Tech Teaching Tools for Seniors | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 23:47

061815senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

There are lots of different technology teaching tools available to boomers and seniors today. Here are some different places to look for help.

Local Classes & Workshops

Many communities offer beginning computer and personal technology classes for older adults that are new to technology. To find out what’s available in your area, contact your local public library or senior center.

Your Area Agency on Aging may also be able to help you — call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get your local number. If you can’t find any local programs that meet your needs, here are some other resources: 

How-To Books

There are also a wide variety of books that can help you learn how to use different types of technologies. Visual Steps (visualsteps.com), for example, offers a number of practical and accessible computer handbooks, software user guides and other instructional materials that are tailored specifically for seniors, as does the “For Dummies” books (dummies.com), which you can buy in book stores nationwide or online at sites like Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Online Instruction Services

If you already have a computer and some computer and/or Internet skills, but would like to expand your knowledge, there are a number of online services you can turn to that offer a wide variety of self-paced technology lessons and instructional videos.

Some good ones to checkout include GCFLearnFree.org, which is supported by the Goodwill Community Foundation and is completely free to use. And MyPCSchool.com, which is privately owned and offers nearly 700 lessons for $39 for three months or $79 for one year.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.


 
Seniors Can Tame Pet Care Expenses | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 23:45

By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

The high cost of veterinary care has become a problem for millions of pet owners today, but it can be especially difficult for seniors living on a fixed income.

Routine medical care can cost hundreds of dollars, while urgent/specialized treatments can run into the thousands. But, it is possible to reduce your pet care costs without sacrificing their health.

Shop around: Call some different vet clinics in your area and compare costs. When you call, get price quotes on basic services like annual exams and vaccinations, as well as bigger-ticket items, like to repair a broken leg, so you can compare.

Ask your vet for help: To help make your vet bills more manageable, see if your vet’s office accepts monthly payments so you don’t have to pay the entire cost up front. Also, find out if your vet offers discounts to senior citizens or reduces fees for annual checkups if you bring in multiple pets.

Search for low-cost care: Many municipal and nonprofit animal shelters offer free or low-cost spaying and neutering programs and vaccinations, and some work with local vets who are willing to provide care at reduced prices for low-income and senior pet owners.

Look for financial assistance: There are a number of state and national organizations that provide financial assistance to pet owners in need. To locate these programs, the U.S. Humane Society provides a listing on their website that you can access at humanesociety.org/petfinancialaid.

Buy cheaper medicine: When you get a prescription from your vet, ask if generic is possible and shop around for the best price.

Most pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Rite Aid and Target fill prescriptions for pets inexpensively, so long as that same drug is also prescribed to humans. And, many pharmacies offer pet discount savings programs too.

Consider pet insurance: If you can afford it, pet insurance is another option worth looking into. You can get a basic policy for under $10 per month, and some insurers provide discounts for insuring multiple pets. See petinsurancereview.com to compare policies. Membership discount plans like Pet Assure (petassure.com) are another way to save, but you’ll need to use a vet in their network.

Look for other ways to save: In addition to cutting your veterinary bills, you can also save on pet food and other supplies, depending on where you shop. The big discount stores typically offer much lower prices than supermarkets. You can also save on treats and toys at sites like coupaw.com and doggyloot.com.

 

 
Happy 800th Birthday to the Magna Carta! | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 23:41

Our founding fathers were inspired by this Great Charter

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Q: I have been hearing snippets of news lately about the Magna Carta. What is it and why is it important?

A: The Magna Carta of 1215 is considered by some to be the most important legal document created in Western Civilization during the last millennium.

Historically, it was a peace treaty between King John of England and his disgruntled Barons, who were unhappy with the King’s abuse of power, excessive taxation and other abuses.

It was, in fact, 800 years ago this month, that King John of England affixed his Great Seal to a piece of parchment that is said to have been written by the Archbishop of Canterbury to resolve a threatened civil war between the King and his Barons.

The Magna Carta (“Great Charter”) is considered to be one of the first legal documents wherein the power of the sovereign was limited by the rule of law. Until then, a word from the King could result in the seizure of a man’s lands or the loss of his head.

It is comprised of 63 clauses addressing specific grievances of the Barons. Buried within them are a number of provisions which limited the absolute power of the King and influenced the development of the rule of law in England and elsewhere through the present day. Most famous is clause 39 which reads as follows:

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

“To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”

Sound familiar? The founders of our country were inspired by the principles first enunciated in the Magna Carta, and we find echoes of its influence in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and our own Constitution.

Historically, the Magna Carta did not long maintain the peace between King John and his Barons. Yet some of the fundamental concepts first enunciated in that Great Charter, and its subsequent iterations signed by other monarchs, live on today in the basic laws of England, France, the United States, and much of Western Civilization.

Indeed, some trace the origins of democracy back to the events of that fateful day, June 15, 1215, at Runnymede, England.

I, personally, have a replica of the Magna Carta hanging in my office, and I periodically gaze upon it as a reminder of the long road from the absolute power of the King to a democracy based upon the rule of law and the value of individual freedoms.

Gene L.  Osofsky is an estate planning and elder law attorney in Hayward. Visit his website at www.LawyerForSeniors.com.


 
Is a Power of Attorney Still Valid After the Principal Dies? | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 04 June 2015 17:30

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Q: My mother named me as her agent under a power of attorney several years ago. Sadly, she recently passed. Can I still use it to take care of her financial matters as her agent?

A: Unfortunately, no. Your mother’s financial power of attorney expired upon her death and is no longer valid.

This fact sometimes comes as a surprise to clients, who believe that a power of attorney (POA) survives the principal’s death, especially if the POA is designated as “durable.”  That is simply not the case.  Rather, the word “durable” in this context only means that it survives your mother’s incapacity.

The POA is a feature of the law of agency. Historically, the agent could only act in the principal’s name so long as the principal were alive and able to later affirm, if necessary, the act of his agent.

In former times, therefore, the agent’s powers in a POA terminated upon either death or the incapacity of the principal. Reason: after either event, the principal could no longer affirm agent’s acts.

Eventually, however, the law changed to provide that disability would not necessarily be a terminating event. In 1984, California adopted the Uniform Durable Power Of Attorney Act which provided that, if the POA were expressly made to be “durable,” it would survive the principal’s incapacity and remain valid. The law reasoned that the occurrence of disability was precisely when the POA was needed most.  However, death still remains a terminating event. Exception: If the agent is unaware of the principal’s death, the agent’s actions until so notified are lawful.

Other terminating events include revocation of agent’s authority by the principal; dissolution or annulment of the marriage as between the principal and the agent; death of the agent; and the fulfillment of the purpose of the POA if designed only for a specific purpose.

Compare the powers of a health care agent under an Advance Health Care Directive. In this instrument, the agent is expressly authorized to make some decisions after the principal’s death, including:

•Making a disposition of the principal’s body or organs under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act,

•Authorizing an autopsy, directing the disposition of remains,

•Authorizing the release of the principal’s medical records where necessary.

So, after your mother’s death, your authority to take care of her financial matters would no longer derive out of her POA. Instead, they would arise – if at all – from other legal instruments:

(1) from your mother’s Living Trust, if you have been nominated as successor trustee,

(2) from her Last Will, if you have been nominated as her executor, but only after the court approves the validity of the will, or,

(3) if she did’t leave a will, then only upon your designation by the   court as administrator of her estate.

It may be helpful to think of the financial powers granted in the different legal instruments in this manner: the powers in the POA end upon your mother’s death, the powers in her Last Will arise only after her death, and the powers in her Living Trust, if any, can straddle the periods both before and after her death. In addition, the law recognizes some limited post-death powers under her Advance Health Care Directive, if any, so that you can direct the disposition of her final remains.

Gene L.  Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward.  Visit his website at www.LawyerForSeniors.com


 
Should We Sell Our Mom’s Home to Pay for Her Care? | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 May 2015 13:39

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Q: Our mother is in assisted living and may need to go into a nursing home soon. To raise money for her ongoing care, we are thinking of selling her home which is now vacant. Does this make sense for us to do?

A: No. Selling mom’s home may undermine her ability to qualify for a government subsidy to help pay for the cost of care, whether now in the Assisted-Living Facility (“ALF”), or later in a nursing home.

The reason: Once she receives the sales proceeds, she will then likely be “over resourced” and not eligible for government benefits to ease the cost of care. Instead, by taking steps to preserve her access to government benefits, her own resources will last longer and minimize the risk that she will run out of money.

Background: There are two key government programs designed to subsidize the cost of long-term care: (1) the Veterans Pension Program, which works best for wartime veterans or their spouses receiving care in an ALF setting, and (2) the Medi-Cal Long-Term Care program which is designed to subsidize care in a nursing home.

Both programs have resource ceilings. Individuals with countable assets which exceed those ceilings do not qualify.

Were you to sell mom’s home, the sale proceeds would likely cause her to exceed those resource caps. She would then be ineligible for benefits and would then be obliged to rely upon those proceeds to pay the full cost of care.

Over time, those funds would be spent down and, perhaps, exhausted.

A better approach involves selling the home inside a very specially designed irrevocable trust, which I sometimes call a “House Trust.” This trust is designed to preserve home sales proceeds while also preserving eligibility for government long-term care benefits. Caution: This House Trust is very different from the more commonly known “Living Trust” with which you might be familiar.

Using this plan, your mother’s home would be transferred into this House Trust, and only then would it be sold. Because the home would then be owned by the trust, the proceeds would go to the trustee rather than to your mother.

If properly designed, this trust would (1) permit the sale of the home as contemplated; (2) preserve her eligibility for a subsidy under either the Veterans Pension Program or the Medi-Cal LTC program; (3) permit indirect access to the home sale proceeds to pay for her care expenses to the extent not subsidized by government benefits, and (4) preserve her eligibility for the $250,000 capital gains exclusion associated with the sale of her personal residence, notwithstanding the transfer of her home to the trust.

By facilitating her eligibility for government benefits, this House Trust would prevent the rapid depletion of her assets by the cost of care. It would also honor what likely is your mother’s desire to preserve her estate for her children and grandchildren, or perhaps even for her own use should she recover and be able to return home.

In my view, there is nothing wrong in planning’s one’s affairs to qualify for government programs, so long as full disclosure is made at the time of application.

To put it another way, public benefits planning on behalf of middle-class folks is akin to sophisticated tax planning in which the wealthy engage. Both impact the public treasury. To be sure, the impact of tax planning is greater by far.

Gene L. Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward. Visit his website at  www.LawyerForSeniors.com.


 
How to Find a New Doctor | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 May 2015 13:36

By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

Thanks to the internet, searching for doctors is a lot easier than it use to be.

Today, there’s a wide variety of websites you can turn to that provide databases of U.S. doctors, their professional medical histories, and ratings and reviews from past patients. Here are some of the best sites available, along with a few additional tips that can help you find the right doctor for you.

Locating Tips

A good first step, and one that doesn’t require a computer, is to ask for a referral.

Contact some other doctors, nurses or health care professionals that you know for some names of doctors or practices that they like.

You should also call your insurance provider, or visit their website for a list of candidates.

If you are a Medicare beneficiary, you can use the Physician Compare tool at medicare.gov/physiciancompare. Find doctors by name, medical specialty or geographic location that accept Medicare. Or, get this information by calling 800-633-4227.

Once you find a few doctors, call their offices to verify that they still accept your insurance, and if they are accepting new patients.

Research Tools

After you find a few doctors you’re interested in, there are lots of online resources you can turn to, to help you check up on them.

For example, you can find out if a doctor is board certified at the American Board of Medical Specialties at certificationmatters.org or call 866-275-2267. And, to learn about malpractice claims and disciplinary actions, use your state medical board — see fsmb.org/state-medical-boards/contacts to search your state.

Here are some other sites that can help you find and/or research doctors in your area for free.

• Healthgrades.com: This comprehensive easy-to-use site provides a wide range of information, from education and training to disciplinary actions and malpractice records. It also offers a rating scale from past patients on a number of issues like communication and office friendliness.

• Vitals.com provides background information on awards, expertise, hospital affiliations and insurance as well as patient ratings. There’s also a patient comment section.

• RateMDs.com provides information on training as well as patient ratings on staff, punctuality, helpfulness and knowledge.

• Look Up Tool: If you want to find out how many times a doctor did a particular service and what they charge for it, go to data.cms.gov and click on “Medicare Physician and Other Supplier Look-up Tool” at the top of the page.

• AngiesList.com: If you don’t mind spending a little money ($20/per year), Angie’s List is a membership service that provides doctor reviews using an A through F scale.

When reaching a doctor, it’s wise to check out several of these sites so you can get a bigger sampling and a better feel of how previous patients are rating a particular doctor.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

 
Recognize Stroke Symptoms | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 07 May 2015 11:18

The easiest way to identify a stroke is to use the F.A.S.T. test

050715senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

Unfortunately, most Americans don’t know the signs of a stroke, but they need to.

Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States and the No. 1 cause of disability. Being able to recognize a stroke and getting to the hospital quickly can make a huge difference in reducing its potentially devastating effects.

Here are some tips that help you recognize a stroke, and what you should do if it happens to you or your loved one.

Types of Stroke

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year more than 795,000 people in the nation have a stroke — three-quarters of which are over the age of 65.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries blood to the brain is suddenly blocked by a clot (ischemic stroke), or burst (hemorrhagic stroke), causing parts of the brain to become damaged or die. About 87 percent of all strokes are ischemic.

Depending on the severity of the brain damage, strokes can cause mild to severe disabilities including paralysis, loss of speech, vision and memory, along with other health and emotional issues, and death.

Stroke Signs

Because stroke injures the brain, the person having a stroke may not realize it. Stroke victims have the best chance if someone around them recognizes the symptoms and acts quickly. The five most common symptoms include:

• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.

• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.

• Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

The easiest way to identify a stroke is to use the F.A.S.T. test to identify the symptoms.

F (Face): Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A (Arm): Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S (Speech): Ask the person to say a simple sentence. Is their speech slurred?

T (Time): If you observe any of these signs of stroke, call 911.

To help you remember the signs, the American Stroke Association has a free “Spot a Stroke FAST” app (see strokeassociation.org) that you can download on your smartphone or mobile device. Or, visit the National Stroke Association at stroke.org and print their “Act FAST” wallet card to keep as a reminder.

Act Quickly

Remember that stroke is a medical emergency and every minute counts. Even if you’re not sure a stroke is happening, call 911 anyway. The longer blood flow is cut off to the brain, the greater the damage. Immediate treatment can save a person’s life and improve their chances for a successful recovery.

Ischemic strokes are treated with a drug called t-PA that dissolves the blood clots that block the blood flow to the brain. The window of opportunity to start treating a stroke is three hours. But to be evaluated and receive treatment, patients need to get  to the hospital within 60 minutes.

If you have a choice, wait for the paramedics rather than driving the patient yourself. Patients who are transported by EMS are evaluated and treated much quicker than people who are driven in. And, of course, don’t drive if you are the one having a stroke.

It’s also very important that you call 911 even if symptoms go away. When symptoms of stroke disappear on their own after a few minutes, a “mini-stroke” or transient ischemic attack (TIA) may have occurred which is a warning that a major stroke may be coming. That’s why mini-strokes need to be treated like emergences, too.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior.”


 

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