Turning 65 in 2020? Some Pointers for a Special Year

Many things change when celebrating your 65th birthday. For one thing, if you haven’t already retired, chances are good that you’ve set a retirement date and it’s not too far away. There are a number of things to be considered, advises the article “Points to ponder before turning 65 ” from Knox News.

The year you turn 65 is the year that you enroll in Medicare. Coverage begins at age 65, and the initial window to enroll opens three months before your 65th birthday and ends three months after. Miss that deadline, and there may be penalties when you do at last sign up for Medicare.

You can sign up for Medicare, whether you are working or not. If you are turning 65 and already collecting Social Security, you’ll automatically be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B. You’ll need to sign up for Part D to avoid penalties, unless you have coverage through a spouse’s employer.

Here are some details:

  • Part A covers hospital care and is generally free for enrollees.
  • Part B covers diagnostic and preventive care. You pay for it with a monthly premium.
  • If you’re still working at age 66 and have health insurance through your employer, you may choose not to enroll in Part B. You can sign up for Part A, at no cost, and delay Parts B and D.
  • If you’re still working past 65 and have creditable coverage through your employer or your spouse’s employer, then you can defer Medicare.

Note that you may not get a full monthly benefit, if you claim Social Security right away. You can begin collecting Social Security at the young age of 62, but you won’t get the full monthly benefit that you otherwise would get unless you wait until you reach full retirement age. That date depends upon your date of birth. For most people turning 65 in 2020, that means full retirement age is 66 plus two months. Is it worth the wait? Your monthly benefit shrinks by 7.8%, if you file for benefits at age 65.

This is the time to check on your estate planning documents. If you don’t have these already, speak with an estate planning attorney to make sure that you and your family are protected by the following:

It’s a great birthday to celebrate but be certain that you take care of the estate planning, Medicare and Social Security aspects of your life, as you prepare for this milestone.

Reference: Knox News (December 26, 2019) “Points to ponder before turning 65”

 

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How Do I Plan for My Incapacity ?

The Post-Searchlight’s recent article, “How to go about planning for incapacity ,” advises that planning ahead can make certain that your health-care wishes will be carried out, and that your finances will continue to be competently managed.

Incapacity can strike at any time. Advancing age can bring dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and a serious illness or accident can happen suddenly. Therefore, it’s a real possibility that you or your spouse could become unable to handle your own medical or financial affairs.

If you become incapacitated without the proper plans and documentation in place, a relative or friend will have to petition the court to appoint a guardian for you. This is a public procedure that can be stressful, time consuming and costly. In addition, without your directions, a guardian might not make the decisions you would have made.

Advance medical directives. Without any legal documents that state your wishes, healthcare providers are obligated to prolong your life using artificial means, if necessary, even if you really don’t want this. To avoid this happening to you, sign an advance medical directive. There are three types of advance medical directives: a living will, a durable power of attorney for health care (or health-care proxy) and a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR). Each of these documents has its own purpose, benefits and drawbacks, and may not be effective in some states. Employ an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare your medical directives to make certain that you have the ones you’ll need and that all documents are consistent.

Living will. This document lets you stipulate the types of medical care you want to receive, despite the fact that you will die as a result of the choice. Check with an estate planning attorney about how living wills are used in your state.

Durable power of attorney for health care. Also called a “health-care proxy,” this document lets you designate a representative to make medical decisions on your behalf.

Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR). This is a physician’s order that tells all other medical staff not to perform CPR, if you go into cardiac arrest. There are two types of DNRs: (i) a DNR that’s only effective while you are hospitalized; and (ii) and DNR that’s used while you’re outside the hospital.

Durable power of attorney (DPOA). This document lets you to name an individual to act on your behalf. There are two types of DPOA: (i) an immediate DPOA. This document is effective immediately; and (ii) a springing DPOA, which isn’t effective until you’ve become incapacitated. Both types end at your death. Note that a springing DPOA isn’t legal in some states, so check with an estate planning attorney.

Incapacity can be determined by (i) physician certification where you can include a provision in a durable power of attorney naming one or more doctors to make the determination, or you can state that your incapacity will be determined by your attending physician at the relevant time; and (ii) judicial finding where a judge is petitioned to determine incapacity where a hearing is held where medical and other testimony will be heard.

Reference: The Post-Searchlight (December 13, 2019) “How to go about planning for incapacity”

 

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Health Care Directive – Are You Forgetting this Estate Planning Document?

Forbes’ recent article, “Two-Thirds Of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document,” explains that a health care directive is a legal document in which an individual writes down his decisions for caregivers in the event of illness or dementia and makes instructions about end of life decisions. It can also provide guidance on how caregivers should handle the body after death.

Health care directives are also called living wills, durable health care powers of attorney, or medical directives, but they all serve the same function, which is to provide guidance and direction on how a person’s medical and death decisions should be made.

Despite the importance of a health care directive, a 2017 study found that only 33% of all Americans have one.

A critical decision in a health care directive is selecting an agent. This is a proxy who acts on your behalf to make decisions that are consistent with your wishes. It’s important to pick an individual whose values are aligned with yours. This is your advocate on decisions, like if you want to have treatment continued or just be kept comfortable in palliative care.

Once you choose an agent, review your directive with her. This will give her guidance if and when the need for her to step in arises.

The agent’s role in the directive doesn’t end at death but continues to ensure that your post-mortem wishes are carried out. When the person dies, the agent takes control of the body. Prior to funeral plans, the agent must make certain that any organ donation wishes are carried out. This decision is usually shown on a person’s driver’s license, but it’s also re-stated in the health care directive.

After the donation wishes are carried out, the agent helps to make sure funeral wishes are handled properly. These instructions can be detailed in the  directive.

With a health care directive put in place, you make things easier for your family and loved ones.

Reference: Forbes (December 13, 2019) “Two-Thirds Of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document”

 

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What Does an Estate Planning Lawyer Really Do?

Vents Magazine’s recent article, “Understanding What an Estate Planning Attorney Does,” explains that estate planning is a legal set of instructions for your family about how to distribute your wealth and property after you die. Estate planning lawyers make sure the distribution of property happens according to the decedent’s will.

An estate planning lawyer can provide legal advice on how to prepare your will after you pass away or in the event that you experience mental incapacity. She will have all the information and education on all the legal processes, beginning with your will and moving on to other important estate planning documents. She will also help you to understand estate taxes.

An estate planning lawyer will also help to make certain that all of your savings and property are safe and distributed through the proper legal processes.

Estate planning attorneys can also assist with the power of attorney and health care directives. These documents allow you to designate an individual to decide issues on your behalf, in the event that you become mentally incapable of making decisions for yourself. They can also help you with a guardian who will look after your estate.

It’s important that you select the right estate planning lawyer to execute the legal process, as you’ve instructed in your estate plan. You should only retain a lawyer with experience in this field of law because other legal counsel won’t be able to help you with these issues—or at least, they may say they can, only to find out later that they’re not experienced in this area.

You also want to feel comfortable with your estate planning lawyer because you must disclose all your life details, plans and estate issues, so she can create an estate plan that’s customized to your circumstances.

If you choose the right attorney, it will save you money in the long run. She will help you save from all the estate taxes and make all the processes smooth and easy for you and your loved ones.

Reference: Vents Magazine (December 12, 2019) “Understanding What an Estate Planning Attorney Does”

 

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Durable Health Care Power of Attorney – Key Health Document Most Americans Don’t Have but Should

You may not like the idea of contemplating your own mortality, or that of a loved one. You may procrastinate all year long about putting your final wishes in place. However, this one document is important for yourself, Durable Health Care Power of Attorney – your loved ones and your life. You shouldn’t put it off any longer. Forbes’ recent article titled “Two-Thirds of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document” explains why.

A health care directive is a legal document that an individual will use to give specific directions for caregivers, in case of dementia or illness. It directs end of life decisions. It also gives directions for how the person wishes their body to be cared for after their death.

This document is known by several different names: living wills, durable health care powers of attorney or medical directives. However, the purpose is the same: to give guidance and direction on making medical and end-of-life decisions.

This document itself is a relatively new one. The first was created in California in 1976, and by 1992, all fifty states had similar laws. The fact that the law was accepted so fast across the country, indicates how important it is. The document provides control when a person is impaired and after their death. That is at the heart of all estate planning.

Yet just as so many Americans don’t have wills, only a third have a health care directive. That’s a surprise, since both estate planning attorneys and health care professionals regularly encourage people to have these documents in place.

A key part of a health care directive is selecting an agent. This is a person who will act as the proxy to make decisions for another person, consistent with their wishes. They will also have to advocate for the person with respect to having treatment continue or shifting to pain management and palliative care. The spouse is often the first choice for this role. An adult child or other close and trusted family or friends can also serve.

The agent’s role does not end at death but continues to ensure that post-mortem wishes are carried out. The agent takes control of the person’s body, making sure that any organ donations are made, if it was the person’s wish.

Once any donation wishes are carried out, the agent also makes sure that funeral wishes are done according to the person’s wishes. Burial is an ancient tradition, but there are many different choices to be made. The health care directive can have as many details as possible, or simply state burial or cremation.

Having a health care directive in place permits an individual to state his or her wishes clearly. Talk with your estate planning attorney about creating a health care directive as part of your comprehensive estate plan.

Reference: Forbes (December 13, 2019) “Two-Thirds of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document”

 

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Cruise Scams – What Seniors Should Know Before Booking a Cruise

Cruise Scams – It seems as if every time you turn around, people are trying to scam you out of your hard-earned money. Planning a cruise is no exception. The cruise industry could not survive without its older adult market, but con artists target this population. The AARP offers advice on what seniors should know before booking a cruise.

Here are some of the most common cruise scams that try to take your travel dollars:

  • You get a promise of a free cruise, in exchange for listening to several hours of high-pressure timeshare presentations or resort tours. Afterward, you might discover the fine print contained terms that added hundreds of dollars or more in fees to the so-called free cruise. You will probably get your arm twisted to buy expensive upgrades. If you stick to your guns and refuse the upgrades, you will likely get the worst cabin on the ship, without things you would take for granted, like air conditioning.
  • An offer “too good to be true” most likely is just that. For example, a legitimate cruise company or travel agency might offer supposed deals, like “buy one, get one free,” “80 percent off,” or “a friend travels free.” If you check the regular prices, however, you might discover the full fare is typically far less than in this offer. If a cruise usually costs $4,000, you are not getting a deal when you buy one and get one free, and the full fare gets jacked up to $8,000.
  • You get a phone call or email that says you won a free cruise or sweepstakes. The caller might merely be trying to steal your personal information to sell to identity thieves on the deep web. Another likely possibility is that, after you pay all the hidden costs, port fees, document fees, taxes and other inflated expenses, you could end up spending as much as if you had booked the trip with a reputable travel agency or directly with the cruise company.

These are but a few examples of cruise scams. Always be cautious about booking travel. Make sure you read the fine print.

Watch for These Red Flags

You should probably hang up the phone or delete an email if it:

  • Asks you to complete a short survey to get entered into a drawing for a free cruise.
  • Says you will have to attend any kind of presentation or meeting to get the cruise.
  • Claims you won a contest, but you do not remember entering one.

You can avoid getting scammed about a cruise, by following this advice:

  • Contact the cruise company directly to make sure the travel agency does business with the cruise company regularly and is reputable.
  • Insist on getting the paperwork before you pay, so you can read all the fine print.
  • Run an online search of the travel agency to see if people have complained about them or posted negative reviews.
  • Do not book with someone who requires payment by a wire transfer or peer-to-peer (P2P) payment through a mobile payment app, like Venmo or Zelle.
  • Pay with a credit card, so you might get at least some of your money back in the event of a scam or dispute.
  • Read everything carefully and do the math to avoid surprises about costs.

Every state has different regulations, so be sure to talk to an elder law attorney near you about how your state might vary from the general law of this article.

References:

AARP. “Cruise Scams.” (accessed December 5, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/cruise.html

 

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How to Find a Good Nursing Homes

How to find a good nursing home – The best time to shop for a nursing home, is when you do not need one. If you wait until you can no longer safely or comfortably live on your own, you probably will not be in a position to do a lot of legwork to investigate facilities. Do your research well ahead of time, so you know the nursing homes in your area that provide high-quality care and, more importantly, the ones that have significant problems.

As you evaluate and compare facilities, you need to know how to spot problems at nursing homes. The marketing brochure, website and lobby might be lovely, but you should base your decision about a long-term care facility on much more data than those things. Here are some tips on how to dig for possible problems at nursing homes:

  • Online search. Check out the nursing home’s website to get an overview of the services it offers and the industry affiliations or certifications it has. Look at the daily menus to see if the meals are nutritious and have enough variety. Most people would not enjoy eating the same main course two or three times a week. Look at the activities calendar to see if you would be happy with the planned social events. On some websites, you can view the floor plans of the resident rooms.
  • Ask your primary care doctor to name a few facilities he would recommend for his parents, and those where he would not want them to live.
  • Local Office on Aging location. Every state has an Office on Aging. Contact them to get as much information as you can about safety records, injuries, deaths, regulation violations and complaints about local nursing homes.
  • Your state’s Long-term Care Ombudsman (LCO). Every state also has an Ombudsman who investigates allegations against nursing homes and advocates for the residents. Your state LCO should have a wealth of information about the facilities in your area.
  • State Online Database or Reporting System. Some states have online databases or collect reports about nursing homes.
  • Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website. Medicare maintains an online tool, Nursing Home Compare, that provides detailed information on nursing homes. Every nursing home that gets any funding from Medicare or Medicaid is in this database. You can enter the name of a specific nursing home or search for all the facilities in a city or zip code. The tool includes information about abuse at long-term care facilities. On the webpage, you can explore the Special Focus Facility section to find nursing homes with a history of problems.
  • Word of mouth. Ask your friends, relatives and neighbors to recommend a quality nursing home. Personal experience can be extremely valuable.
  • Make a short list of the top candidates. After you collect as much information as you reasonably can, narrow your options down to four or five facilities that best meet your needs and preferences.
  • Visit your top choices. There is no substitute for going to a nursing home and checking it out in person. Pay attention to the cleanliness of the place throughout, not just in the lobby. Give the facility the “sniff” test. Determine whether they use products to mask unpleasant odors, instead of cleaning thoroughly. See whether the residents are well-groomed and wearing fresh, clean clothes. Observe the interaction of the staff with the residents. Notice whether people who need assistance at mealtime, get the help they need without having to wait.
  • Take online reviews with a grain of salt. Fake reviews are all over the internet. If you see a nursing home with only a few reviews, and they are all five stars, be skeptical.

Once you gather this information, you will be ready in the event you need to stay in a nursing home for a short recuperation from surgery or longer term.

References:

AARP. “Finding a Nursing Home: Don’t Wait Until You Need One to Do the Research.” (accessed December 5, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2019/finding-a-nursing-home.html

CMS. “Find a nursing home.” (accessed December 5, 2019) https://www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/search.html

 

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Top 6 Questions (and Answers) about Conservatorships and Guardianships

Note in New York the Conservatorship is called the Guardian of the Property.

What is a guardian?

When someone becomes incapacitated due to illness, injury or disability, the court appoints a guardian to handle healthcare and certain non-financial decisions for that person. A guardian can be anyone over the age of 18, but must also be able to show that they are qualified to make these decisions for their loved one.  A guardian is not necessarily the person who is the caregiver over the incapacitated individual.

What is a conservator?

A conservator is appointed by the court to make financial decisions for an incapacitated person. In some states, those who are appointed “conservator of the estate” are those who make financial decisions. Those who are appointed “conservator of the person” handle the same issues as a “guardian.” Conservators can be expensive, as is the process to obtain one. There is also the potential that the incapacitated individual may be taken advantage of. To avoid a conservatorship, designate a power of attorney for your financial and medical care.

Does my elderly loved one need a guardian?

If your family member is unable to make healthcare decisions on her own, due to an injury following an accident, an illness, or disability, and she has not designated a healthcare power of attorney, she will need a guardian.

When is a conservator more appropriate than a guardian?

In some cases, someone may be perfectly capable of making her own healthcare decisions, but are unable to manage her finances. In this case, a conservator would be more appropriate. If an individual cannot make financial or healthcare decisions, both may be appropriate.

Who does the court appoint as guardian or conservator?

A court will appoint the person it deems most competent to fill the role of conservator or guardian. In general, the person must be over the age of 18. The court’s first choice is a spouse, or other close family member. If none of those is available or is unwilling to serve, then they may consider extended family or friends. If those are unwilling or unavailable, then the court will appoint a neutral third party, such as an attorney, to act as conservator or guardian.

How do I relinquish guardianship over my wife?

To relinquish guardianship over any loved one, you must go to court and petition to do so. It is best if you have someone else in mind to take over when you submit your petition, to ensure your loved one’s needs are met.

Resources:

ElderLawAnswers. (Accessed November 29, 2019) https://www.elderlawanswers.com/questions-and-answers/Guardianship/Conservatorship

LawHelp.org. (Accessed November 29, 2019) https://www.lawhelp.org/dc/resource/guardianship-and-conservatorship-frequently-a

 

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Donor-Advised Funds – What are Some Smart Ways to Give to Charities During the Holidays?

Donor-Advised Funds – The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction, so fewer people are itemizing their taxes. However, there still are ways to donate to charity and get a reward.

Donor-advised funds. Your contributions are invested and grow tax-free, until you elect to donate to a qualified charity. Many of them have minimums to set up, as well as minimums on subsequent donations. Donations made to donor-advised funds are irrevocable. Depending on your situation, a donor-advised fund could help you exceed the standard deduction, which is $12,200 for single filers or $24,400 for married couples filing jointly. This would let you itemize your deductions at tax time.

Rather than giving to charity each year, you can save your donations and give twice as much every other year. It’s called bunching. For instance, say that you donate $10,000 to charity every year. If you started bunching this holiday season, you’d wait a year to make that donation and take the standard deduction on your 2019 taxes. But in 2020, you’d donate $20,000 ($10,000 for 2019 and $10,000 for 2020) and itemize your taxes that year. You can also think about front-loading two years’ worth of donations and contributing to a donor-advised fund this year. Try to take as many itemized deductions as you can this year and take the standard deduction next year.

Even if you’re not thinking of itemizing, you can reduce your taxable income by using your Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) to give to others. If you’re over 70½, your deadline to take distributions from your tax-deferred retirement accounts is likely the end of the year. You can transfer untaxed money directly from your IRA to a qualifying charity. Transfer the money directly to avoid paying taxes on the withdrawal.

Donating stocks, bonds, mutual funds or real estate can also be a beneficial tax strategy. You can donate appreciated investments, provided you’ve owned them for more than a year. When you donate appreciated investments directly to a charity, you avoid having to report the gains as taxable income.

It’s a wise idea to think about charitable giving all year round, because it’s a useful tax strategy in retirement. Donating to local charities also helps your community.

Create a comprehensive written retirement plan that details all your expenses, including charitable giving. Lastly, stress test your nest egg before you make charitable donations to make certain that you’re not at risk of running out of money. You should also speak with your estate planning attorney to be sure that your charitable giving strategy complements your estate plan.

Reference: Kiplinger (November 25, 2019) “Strategies for Charitable Giving this Holiday Season”

 

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Hipaa Authorization – What Estate Planning Documents Does My Child Need Now That She’s an Adult?

Hipaa Authorization – Your child may graduate from high school and head off to college or start a full-time job or vocational training program.

Although they’re still your children, the law sees them as are adults. As a result, parents’ “rights” to protect their adult children or make decisions for them immediately becomes quite limited.

The Tewksbury Town Crier’s recent article, “Is your child turning 18? Here’s what you need to know,” explains that people often have an estate planning attorney draft the appropriate documents, so they will be legal and binding. Let’s look at a list of documents to consider and discuss with your young adult:

  • HIPAA Authorization: if your 18-year-old has a job in another state or will be attending college and needs medical records or assistance making appointments, ask her to go to the doctor’s and dentist’s office and sign forms that designate agents to act on her behalf. Due to HIPAA laws, information can’t be released without the adult child’s permission.
  • Healthcare Proxy: Have your 18-year old complete this document, make a copy, put a copy on each parent or guardian’s phone and put a copy on your child’s phone. This is for an emergency, like when the child can’t speak for herself. However, don’t wait for an emergency. If your child is at college, the school will only contact you as the emergency contact, but the proxy is between you and the hospital and includes mental health issues. A healthcare proxy lets you to participate in life and death decisions, should your child not be able to advocate for herself.
  • Durable Power of Attorney: A general durable power of attorney or financial power of attorney must also be signed by the 18-year old, designating his parents, guardians, or others as agents authorized to act on his behalf. This allows the agent access to financial information, so that he can participate in the financial issues with a university or business in the event that the child cannot.
  • FERPA: This is an educational records release, which allows the educational institution to share grades, transcripts and other related materials with parents or designated agents. Without it, the school will not provide you with access to any information.

Finally, encourage your young adult family member to register to vote.

Reference: Tewksbury Town Crier (December 8, 2019) “Is your child turning 18? Here’s what you need to know”

 

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