Seniors
Should We Sell Our Mom’s Home to Pay for Her Care? PDF  | 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 PDF  | 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 PDF  | 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.”


 
Russell City Stories Stitched into Quilts PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 07 May 2015 11:16

The Hayward Area Historical Society, 22380 Foothill Blvd., in Hayward recently unveiled a new exhibit entitled “Stitching Russell City Stories,” a history told with quilts, open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The exhibit is visual narrative of those who resided, worshiped and worked in Russell City through new story quilts made by master quilter Marion Coleman.  The exhibition will be on view at the HAHS Center for History and Culture through Aug. 2.

Russell City is a lost community of Hayward, but was once a patchwork of cultures made up of people from around the world. The community was razed in 1967 to make way for an industrial park, but former residents of Russell City still remember the town with great fondness.

“Because there’s so little physical evidence left of Russell City, this is a creative and unique way of telling the stories of the place,” says curator Diane Curry.

 

 
Check Trust Property Title Insurance PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 07 May 2015 11:14

Transferring property into a Living Trust may nullify coverage

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

Q: My wife and I created a Living Trust some years ago and put our home in our trust. I recall hearing something on the radio recently about making sure that the transfer into our trust did not void our title insurance. Do you know anything about this?

A: Yes. You refer to the concern that the transfer of ownership of your home from you and your wife as individuals, to you and your wife as trustees, might nullify your title insurance coverage, depending upon the terms of your policy.

To understand this problem, and the appropriate “fix”, a bit of background is helpful:

Title insurance is a policy of insurance issued to the buyer of real property to protect against defects in title, easement disputes, liens, right of access and the marketability of title. But in order to be covered you must remain a named “insured” under the policy.

When you and your wife bought the property years ago, you likely took title in your individual names. When you later created your Living Trust, you presumably transferred title to yourselves ”as trustees.” The legal issue is whether you and your wife, as trustees, are still the named insureds under the policy.

This very question was decided against the homeowners by a California court a few years ago in a case called Kwok vs Transnation Title Ins. Co.

In that case, a couple created a Limited Liability Company (“LLC”) to acquire a piece of real property with the plan of constructing a home. Title insurance was issued at escrow closing in the name of the LLC.

Subsequently, the couple created a Living Trust and transferred the property from their LLC into their trust. During construction, an easement dispute arose with their neighbor, and they turned to their title insurance company for help.

The company denied coverage. It reasoned that the insured under the policy was the LLC, not the trustees of the Living Trust, even though the owners of each entity were the very same husband-and-wife. The Court agreed with the insurance company and upheld its denial of coverage.

Since then, many title companies have taken the position that a transfer of real property into a Living Trust nullifies the title insurance, especially with older policies.

In view of the above, I recommend the following:

(1) Check your title insurance policy for the definition of “insured.” Make sure that it continues to cover you if you transfer your home into your Living Trust, and contact your title insurance company to verify your reading of the policy;

(2) If you are concerned that it may not provide coverage, ask for a special endorsement to extend coverage to you and your wife in your capacity as “trustees.” The cost, if any, should be nominal.

It is unusual for title insurance problems to arise after purchase, yet if they do arise they can be very costly to resolve. Keep your title insurance in force. It takes only modest effort to either verify coverage on your existing policy or, if necessary, to purchase a special endorsement to preserve that coverage.

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

 

 
FLEX Shuttle Offers Discounted Rides PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 07 May 2015 11:13

The City of San Leanro offers transportation services for San Leandro residents age 60 years old and over and for people with disabilities.

The FLEX Shuttle can be accessed from any of the planned stops at specific locations, or along the shuttle bus route with San Leandro. The shuttle operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Enrollment is required to use FLEX Shuttle services. An application must be completed and submitted with required documentation and an annual registration fee of $20. After this payment, registered riders may use the FLEX Shuttle for no additional charge.

For more information and an application, call 577-3462.

 

 
Medication Management Made Easier PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 April 2015 14:23

041615senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

Anybody who juggles multiple medications can relate to the problem of forgetting to take a medication, or not remembering whether they already took it.

This is especially true for people who take medications at varying times of the day. Here are some different product and service solutions that may help.

Medication Helpers

Getting organized and being reminded are the two keys to staying on top of a medication schedule. To help achieve this, there are a variety of affordable pillboxes, medication organizers, vibrating watches, beeping pill bottles and even dispensers that can make a big difference.

To find these types of products, go to Epill.com (800-549-0095), where you’ll find dozens to choose from.

Also check out Reminder Rosie (reminder-rosie.com, $130), a voice-activated talking clock that tells you when to take your medicine. It can also be used for other reminders, too.

And, for a super-comprehensive medication management device, there’s the MedMinder automatic pill dispenser. This is a computerized pillbox that will beep and flash when it’s time to take medications, and will call you if you forget. It will even alert you if you take the wrong pills.

This device can also be set up to call, email or text family members and caregivers, letting them know if you miss a dose, take the wrong medication or miss a refill. It is available at MedMinder.com, or call 888-633-6463. The MedMinder rents for $40 to $65 per month.

Medication Packaging

Another possible way to help simplify medication use is to get prescriptions filled in single-dose packets that put all medications (vitamins and over-the-counter drugs can be included too) together in neatly labeled packets organized by date and the time of day they should be taken. This does away with all the pill bottles and pill sorting.

Some compounding pharmacies or independent drug stores offer single-dose packaging along with a number of online pharmacies like PillPack.com.

Reminding Services

Another simple solution that can help you stick to your medication schedule is to use a medication reminding service. These are services that will actually call, email or text you reminders of when it’s time to take medicine and when it’s time to refill your prescriptions. Some even offer extra reminders like doctor and dentist appointments, wake-up calls and more.

Companies that offer such services are MyMedSchedule.com, which provides free medication reminders via text message or email. Their website can also help you make easy-to-read medication schedules that you can print out. Or, if you use a smartphone or tablet, there are free medication reminding apps that can help, like MediSafe (medisafeproject.com) or MedCoach (greatcall.com).

If, however, you don’t receive texts or use a smartphone, tablet or computer, either OnTimeRx.com or Snoozester.com may be the answer. With starting prices ranging between $4 and $10 per month, these services will call you (they can send text messages and emails too) for all types of reminders, including daily medications, monthly refills, doctor appointments, wake-up calls and other events.

Or, if you’re looking for extra help, Care Call Reassurance (call-reassurance.com, 602-265-5968 ext. 7) may be a better fit. In addition to the call reminders to your phone, this service can be set up to contact a family member or designated caregiver if you fail to answer or acknowledge the call. This service runs between $15 and $20 per month.

 

 
Power Of Attorney May Not Grant Gift Giving PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 April 2015 14:20

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

Q: My father is in a nursing home and could really use a Medi-Cal subsidy to help with the cost (about $8,500 per month). He has dementia and cannot manage his own finances. Years ago, he signed a Power Of Attorney naming me as his agent. Can I use it to make gifts of his excess assets to help him qualify for Medi-Cal?

A: Whoa! Not so fast. There are a couple of real concerns here:

(1) whether the Power Of Attorney (POA) legally authorizes gifts, and

(2) whether making gifts of excess assets will help or hurt his eligibility for Medi-Cal.

The POA:

In California, a Power Of Attorney must expressly authorize the agent to make gifts. Gifting powers cannot be implied from other clauses, no matter how comprehensive they appear.

This requirement often comes as a surprise to clients, as many assume that the POA authorizes virtually any action that the agent desires, including the making of gifts.

Quite the contrary.

An agent under a POA is a fiduciary and cannot just give away the principal’s assets, no matter how well intended the act, unless the power to do so is expressly authorized in the POA document.

Another concern is that you, as agent, cannot include yourself as a gift recipient unless the POA expressly authorizes you to “self deal.” The phrase “self deal” means acting in your own self-interest.

In the absence of the right to “self deal,” the making of gifts to yourself would be viewed as acting in your own self-interest and breaching the higher duty you owe to your father. Further, those unauthorized gifts to yourself could be viewed as theft and/or as elder financial abuse.

Of course, the POA must also be “durable,” meaning that it survives your father’s incapacity and remains valid even though he is no longer competent.

The Medi-Cal Issue:

As you apparently know, in order to qualify for a Medi-Cal nursing home subsidy, an applicant’s countable resources must be under certain limits. For a single individual, the ceiling is $2,000, and for a married couple it is approximately $120,000.

Against that backdrop, many clients believe that the way to help a loved one qualify for Medi-Cal is to simply help them transfer away excess assets to other family members. However, unless handled in a very special way, gifting away a loved one’s excess assets could backfire: the transfers could potentially disqualify them from a Medi-Cal subsidy, perhaps for a lengthy period going forward.

In summary, your father’s POA must first be evaluated to determine if it includes broad gifting powers and self-dealing powers, and next whether it is a “durable” power. If it meets these tests, and if gifting otherwise appears appropriate to accelerate his eligibility for a Medi-Cal subsidy, then you should seek professional guidance to develop a divestment plan compliant with Medi-Cal rules.

If those rules are not strictly observed, the making of gifts could result in a long period of ineligibility from the very Medi-Cal subsidy that you seek.

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


 
Alternatives Make Colon Cancer Screening Easier PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 12:05

By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

While a colonoscopy is considered the gold-standard screening test for detecting colon cancer and is widely recommended once adults reach age 50, only about half of Americans who’ve passed that milestone ever get tested.

Why? Because most people dread the all-day laxative prep and sedation, not to mention the procedure itself.

Fortunately, there are some easier alternatives, but be aware that if these tests uncover any suspicious results, you’ll still need to undergo a colonoscopy.

Take-Home Tests

There are two different types of tests on the market today that you can take in the privacy of your own home that require no laxative-taking/bowel-cleansing preparation.

The best option is the new FDA-approved Cologuard test (see cologuardtest.com), which has a 92 sensitivity rate for detecting colon cancers. With this test, you simply take a sample of a bowel movement and mail it in to the lab for analysis.

The lab looks for both blood and cancer-related DNA cells in your stool.

The Cologuard test, which is recommended every three years, requires a prescription from your doctor and costs $599, but it is covered by Medicare and many private insurers.

If, however, you find that the Cologuard test is not covered by your insurer, and you can’t afford or don’t want to pay the $599 fee, the other option is the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), which detects 74 percent colon cancers.

These tests, which are also provided by your doctor, check for traces of blood in the stool that could indicate cancer or large polyps that can develop into cancer, but they don’t look at the DNA. You simply send a stool sample to the lab.

Recommended annually, both of these fecal tests cost only around $25, and are covered by Medicare and most insurers.

Less Invasive Tests

Two other tests to consider that are less invasive then a colonoscopy but more entailed than the take-home tests are the virtual colonoscopy and the sigmoidoscopy (both tests are recommended every five years).

A virtual colonoscopy uses a CT scan to view your colon instead of a scope in the rectum, so it’s a less invasive procedure than a traditional colonoscopy and doesn’t require sedation. But, it still requires the same bowel-cleansing prep.

It’s also more expensive, typically costing between $400 and $800, and it is not covered by Medicare or most insurers.

A sigmoidoscopy exam, which is covered by Medicare and most insurers, uses a short, flexible scope inserted in the rectum like a colonoscopy to look at the lower colon only. This is a much faster and less involved procedure than a colonoscopy and one that doesn’t require sedation. You will follow a clear-liquid diet the day before the exam and take a laxative or enema the morning of.

Colon Cancer Numbers

Colon cancer, which develops slowly over several years without causing symptoms especially in the early stages of the disease, is the second-largest cancer killer in the U.S., killing around 50,000 Americans a year.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — an independent panel of medical experts that advises the government on health policies — recommends colon cancer screening to all adults, ages 50 to 75. Earlier screenings are recommended to people who have an increased risk due to family history or other factors.

Experts believe that as many as 20,000 lives could be saved each year, if the screening rate went up to 90 or 95 percent.

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


 
Don’t Unwind Your Trust by Mistake PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 11:56

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

Q. My father had a Living Trust which originally held title to his house. He recently died and when we went to handle his affairs, we discovered that the home was no longer in his trust. It seems that he took it out of his trust when he refinanced his home some years back. I know this is not what he intended. Any idea what is going on here?

A. You describe a common problem. Here is what I believe happened.

Some time after he created his trust, he refinanced his house. My guess is that the lender required that he remove his home from trust during the loan escrow, so that he could sign the loan papers as an individual owner rather than as a trustee.

Your father may then have been unaware that he needed to restore the home to his trust after close of escrow. Either no one so advised him or perhaps he neglected that advice.

It is not entirely clear to me why lenders make this request, but it seems to be common, especially in years past. My guess is that his lender did not want to go through the trouble or expense of arranging for its own attorney to read the trust document to determine if your father, as trustee, had the power to encumber or borrow against the home.

Rather, perhaps the lender felt it would be easier to have your father sign the loan documents as an “individual” owner, rather than as trustee of his Living Trust. The lender, or the escrow officer, may not have advised your father to restore the home to his trust after close of escrow. Perhaps they both assumed that your father would see his own attorney to take care of that final step.

My colleagues in the mortgage loan business advise that this practice of lenders is less common today than in years past, and that many lenders today permit the homeowner to sign loan documents  “as trustee,” thus eliminating the need to remove the home from trust to close the loan.

Sometimes lenders will have their own attorney review the trust and give an opinion to the lender that the trustee has such powers. So, in the future, we should see fewer problems such as the one you present.

The question, now, is whether you are stuck with a full probate in order to deal with the home outside of trust.

For guidance, you should contact an attorney for advice as to whether there may be an alternative to probate that would correct the situation and allow you to proceed with trust administration. In this regard, there is a procedure which attorneys often refer to as a “Heggstad Petition”, which might allow the court to restore the home to your father’s trust.

Whether it would be appropriate in your case is a fact-specific analysis. The good news is that there has been a very recent development which might enhance the chance that such a petition might work.

The lesson for parents who have taken out loans after creating a trust is this: Make sure that you have restored your home to your trust, an act which requires the signing and recording of an appropriate deed. Otherwise, your trust may not accomplish its purpose, and your children may be stuck with a probate to handle your final affairs.

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


 
No Need to Suffer from Achy Hands PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 March 2015 15:23

031915senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

There are literally hundreds of different arthritis aids and other products on the market today that can help people with arthritic hands and carpal tunnel syndrome.

To find out which devices can best benefit you, a good place to start is to ask your doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist, who can test the strength and functionality of your hands and recommend appropriate aids. With that said, here’s a rundown of some helpful products for different needs.

Kitchen Aids

Activities like gripping cooking utensils, cutting and chopping, opening jars and cans, and moving around heavy pots and pans can make preparing a meal much more difficult when you have hand arthritis.

Some products that can help are Oxo Good Grips, which makes dozens of soft, large-handle cooking, baking and cleaning utensils that are easier to grip. And for cutting and chopping the Dexter DuoGlide and Ergo Chef knives are excellent ergonomically designed options.

For opening jars, the wall-mounted or under-counter mounted Zim Jar Opener is a top manual opener. It has a V-shaped grip that holds the lid as you twist the jar with both hands.

Some other good options are the Hamilton Beach Open Ease Automatic Jar Opener, and a nifty tool called the JarPop that pops the seal on jars so lids can be removed easier.

For opening cans, an electric can opener is the best option. West Bend and Hamilton Beach make some of the best.

And if you’re interested in arthritis-friendly pots and pans, look for lightweight cookware that has two handles. These are much easier to lift and move around.

Household Helpers

Turning doorknobs, key locks, twist-handles on kitchen or bathroom faucets, and twist-on lamp switches can also be difficult. To help, there are doorknob lever adapters, key turners, lamp switch enlargers, and lever handles for faucets  that provide leverage for easier turning.

Personal Care

Squeezing a shampoo bottle or a tube of toothpaste, or gripping a bar of soap, a toothbrush handle or even a piece of dental floss can make grooming a challenge. Solutions include a wall-mounted soap, shampoo and toothpaste dispenser, which provides easy access to suds. And for brushing and flossing, there are wide-handled, electric toothbrushes and flossers that vibrate or spin to do the cleaning for you.

Easier Dressing

Fastening buttons, pulling zippers and tying shoelaces can also present problems. To help with these chores there are buttonhooks and zipper pulls, and elastic shoelaces, which transform lace-ups into slip-ons.

Reading, Computing

Holding and turning the pages of a book, hand writing and using a computer mouse can also stress arthritic hands.

For readers, an eReader like a Kindle or Nook is recommended because they’re lightweight and easier to hold than regular books. For writing, there’s the soft rubber Pencil Grip that fits on pencils and pens, and ergonomic-shaped pens like the Pen Again that reduce hand fatigue. And for easier computing, the 3M Ergonomic Mouse and Contour Roller Mouse can eliminate hand and wrist stress.

Hobby Helpers

There are dozens of arthritis aids for hobbies too. For example, there are automatic card shufflers and cardholders for card players. If you like to paint, knit or crochet, there are ergonomic paintbrushes, and oversized knitting needles and crochet hooks that are easier to hold. And for sewing, quilting or crafting, there are tools like Fiskars self-opening Easy Action Scissors that spring open for easier cutting.

For a rundown of additional products and where you can purchase them, visit my online article at AchyHandAids.org.

 

 
VA May Tighten Rules on Disability Pensions PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 March 2015 15:19

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

Q: I hear that the VA is now proposing a “look back” rule to make it more difficult for disabled veterans to qualify for an Aid and Attendance pension. Do you know anything about this?

A: Yes. As you may know, veterans who served during wartime and have either a non-service-connected disability or are over age 65 can receive a “Veterans Pension” to help pay for long-term care. Some refer to this pension as an “Aid and Attendance” (A&A) pension. However, in order to qualify, the veteran or surviving spouse must meet certain income and net worth requirements.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently issued proposed regulations that would heavily penalize veterans who made asset transfers within a 36 month “look back” period in order to qualify.

The announced purpose of the proposed regulations is to protect veterans from predatory sellers of financial products. However, in operation, the proposed rules would, instead, severely punish deserving veterans and their dependents: Gift transfers of excess assets, or the purchase of annuities, if made within 36 months of application in order to reduce net worth would potentially disqualify the veteran or surviving spouse from a pension for a term up to 10 years.

This proposal represents a sea change for the VA. Historically, gift transfers to reduce net worth were perfectly fine. Likewise, using excess assets to purchase an annuity to create an income stream was also an accepted strategy. Both strategies helped many wartime veterans qualify for a VA Pension so that they could afford care to remain at home, rather than a nursing facility.

Under the proposed new rules, veterans who made these disqualifying transfers would be denied a disability pension for a term based on a formula: value of the excess assets transferred would be divided by the monthly A&A benefit rate and the result would be the number of months of disqualification.

Example: An applicant who transferred $100,000 in excess assets would be disqualified for pension for the following number of months if the application were made in 2015:

Married Veteran: $100,000 / $2,120 = 47 months

Single Veteran: $100,000 / $1,788 = 55 months

Surviving Spouse: $100,000 / $1,149 = 87 months

There are a number of troubling aspects about the proposed rules: (1) there is no effective date given in the regulations, raising the risk that the rules could be retroactive; (2) there is no “grand-fathering” of existing claims; (3) there is no exception for innocent transfers such as birthday gifts to family members or donations to charity or church; and (4) the duration of the penalty would depend upon the marital status of the claimant. Example: The penalty for a surviving spouse would be approximately double what it would be for a married veteran.

The regulations are not yet final and the VA has invited comments through March 24, 2015, before issuing final regulations.

My advice: Until regulations are clarified in regard to their effective date and grandfathering, Veterans and their surviving spouses — who might be considering application for a pension within the next 36 months — should refrain from making significant gifts or using excess assets to purchase an annuity.

Gene L. Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward. For more information on this topic, visit his website at www.LawyerForSeniors.com.


 

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