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Gainesville Florida Estate Planning & Elder Law Blog

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Annual Enrollment for Medicare Plans

Starting today and running through Dec. 7, Medicare beneficiaries who want to change their prescription drug plan or Medicare Advantage plan for 2015 can do just that. The Annual Coordinated Election Period (ACEP) allows you to update or change your current respective plans. This is for Part D prescription drug plans and Part C Medicare Advantage plans.

Throughout this open enrollment process, you can either enroll in a Part D plan or adjust your current one. Additionally, beneficiaries enrolled in a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan can revert back to traditional Medicare or change their existing plan. Those without a Medicare Advantage plan can enroll during the ACEP. Changes made before Dec. 7 are effective Jan. 1, 2015.

Even if you are satisfied with your current plans, we recommend you review your options for the coming year. Your Part D or MA plan may have changed various features like coverage or provider networks. You can visit the Medicare Plan Finder at www.medicare.gov for complete information on 2015 plans.

Review any changes you are considering with your current provider to ensure coverage under the new plan. Keep in mind that missing the Dec. 7 deadline could result in lack of coverage and/or a financial penalty. Adjusting your current plans or enrolling in new ones should not be put off.

 

 


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Choosing a nursing home: Why consumers need to look beyond Medicare ratings

Choosing a nursing home can be a daunting task.  There are a lot of factors to consider when making a decision that will impact such a large part of your life.

Unfortunately, referring to Medicare reviews on various nursing homes might not be adequate enough. Recently, The New York Times published an investigative report that found Medicare’s tool used to compare nursing homes relies heavily on self-reported data by facilities themselves and is therefore mostly unreliable.

Keeping this in mind, it is important that consumers do not rely solely on Medicare’s rating system. Medicare mostly rates safety, not general quality.  Here are examples of two key components in the rating system that can be oversimplified and consequently flawed:

  1. Staffing: Patient/staff ratios can be helpful, but are not always an ample statistic when standing alone.  While Medicare only provides this ratio, several other key factors are being overlooked: staff morale, turnover or training.
  2. Falls: Oftentimes, a nursing home with fewer reported falls is considered a better choice than one with more.  However, it’s easy to skew these statistics since nursing homes might restrict residents’ freedom in order to restrict the risk of falling. Seniors might prefer a facility with a higher fall rate than one that keeps patients from moving at all.

As you can see, there’s more to these Medicare reviews than meets the eye.  Oftentimes, its reviews and the statistics offered are not enough to make a sufficient judgment on a facility.

Beyond the Medicare rating system, seniors and consumers can do some investigating of their own. Talk to residents of the nursing homes you’re considering and their families; visit the facilities in person; talk to the nurses and aides who provide the hands-on care; check the local ombudsman office for complaints. 


Monday, August 18, 2014

Financial Exploitation is the Most Common Form of Elder Abuse

Unfortunately, financial exploitation of older adults is a serious and all-too-common problem. We actually wrote about it previously in a two-part series in the Caregiver Chronicle in March and May of this year.

Aug. 6 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine revealed some troubling statistics about the abuse of senior citizens.

Researchers interviewed more than 4,000 adults over the age of 60 living in New York. They found:

  • As many as one in 20 older adults in the U.S. may be financially exploited.
  • Most older adults have had their money or property stolen or used improperly at some point.
  • Roughly 80 percent of those interviewed had money or property stolen or misused over the past year.
  • Victims’ children were responsible for the financial abuse about 60 percent of the time, with neighbors and friends being responsible 17 percent of the time and paid home aides 15 percent of the time.
  • Often, victims were living in large households without their spouse.
  • Those needing the most help maintaining their independence were particularly at risk for financial abuse.

 

There are many ways the elderly can be financially exploited. In some cases, older people were forced or tricked into giving up their rights or property; others were forced or misled into signing or making changed to a legal document. This financial abuse of older Americans can have negative consequences that extend beyond an individual case.

“In addition to robbing older adults of resources, dignity and quality of life, it is likely costing our society dearly in the form of entitlement encumbrances, health care and other costs,” said Janey Peterson of Weill Cornell Medical College in a journal news release.

Since financial exploitation and abuse is the most common form of elder abuse, these disturbing figures need to serve as a wake up call for doctors, policy makers and caregivers, the study concluded. 


Monday, August 18, 2014

Retirement saving linked to better wealth and health

A new study suggests that people who save for retirement are more likely to pay closer attention to their health.  Lamar Pierce, an associate professor at Washington University, and Timothy Gubler, a doctoral candidate, conducted the study which attributes the findings to a concept called time discounting.

Time discounting refers to a person’s tendency to value smaller immediate rewards over future desired results.  People who prefer large future rewards to small immediate rewards are more likely to save for retirement and ultimately improve their health using tools such as blood and cholesterol tests.

 “Employees who saved for the future by contributing to a 401(k) showed improvements in their abnormal blood-test results and health behaviors approximately 27% more often than non-contributors did,” Pierce and Gubler stated in the study.

The retirement contribution patterns and future health improvements studied were highly correlated, but not causal.  This means that saving money for retirement will not miraculously improve your health, but that people who are likely to save money are also likely to take good care of their health.

Essentially, it is important to remind investors that they should be proactive in regards to both their future financial stability and their health.

 


Sunday, August 10, 2014

New regulations make longevity insurance more attractive

Longevity insurance guarantees income in senior citizens’ later years.  New IRS regulations effective July 1 have made it even more sensible to consider this kind of insurance in order to provide peace of mind for aging adults.

The new regulations allow a deferred income annuity to be purchased with funds from an IRA, 401K or other qualified plan while excluding the funds in the annuity for the purpose of determining Required Minimum Distributions.  Purchasers must begin drawing on the annuity before age 85; up to 25% of the funds in the qualified plan or $125,000 (whichever is less) may be placed in the annuity.

This form of longevity insurance can be helpful to both singles and married couples since when a spouse passes away the survivor loses the deceased’s Social Security check and oftentimes their pension. It’s also beneficial from an estate planning perspective since the annuity comes with a return of premium feature.  Initial investment can be passed on to heirs if there are premiums paid but not yet received when a purchaser passes away.

Because the regulations are new, insurance companies are working to provide the opportunity for customers to invest in this deferred income annuity. 


Monday, July 21, 2014

Savvy Caregiver Classes

I can’t say enough about how valuable these Savvy Caregiver classes are for our community. There are new classes coming up for family and friends, as well as one for professional caregivers. I urge you to consider attending if you are caring for friends or family members or anticipate doing it soon.

A new Savvy Caregiver Training in Gainesville starts on Thursday, Sept. 4 at the offices of Elder Options (100 SW 75th Street, Gainesville). This is a free, six-week training for persons who are caregivers for family members and friends with any kind of dementia. Tell your friends. 

Savvy Caregiver Training for paid caregivers is scheduled for Friday Aug.15 & 22. It is a 12-hour, two-day training from 8:30 am – 3:30 pm. It will be held at Elder Options, (100 SW 75th, Suite #301, Gainesville).  At the end of these 12 hours each participant will received a certificate they can use to obtain credits toward required dementia training in their organizations. It is open to all home health aides, CNA’s, nurses, therapists, social workers or any other who work with persons with dementias. The instructor has a DOEA license for ALF certification.   

Savvy Caregiver Training

Savvy Caregiver Professional Training


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Evolving long-term care options

Over the last 20 years, long-term care options for senior citizens and how to fund them have changed drastically. Baby boomers (and the generations that follow) will need to plan their long-term care differently than their parents before them due to factors like longer life spans, the uncertainty of future entitlement benefits and rapidly rising medical costs.

Fortunately, aging adults have choices when it comes to planning for long-term care. You can earmark savings for long-term medical expenses, rely on entitlement benefits, depend on your family or consider long-term-care insurance.

Many retirees with long-term needs want to rely on their family for support—as their own parents may have.  However, it is important that clients are aware that this option may come with immense emotional, physical and financial stress on family members.

Alternatively, an entire insurance industry has been developed around retiring baby boomers to fit the needs of the aging population, giving clients options beyond family for their long-term care. 

Unlike many policies in the past that directly paid a nursing facility, many current policies pay the benefit to the insured. In fact, half of benefits paid by private insurers for long-term care are not specifically for nursing homes but for in-home or assisted-living care instead.

Many policies can pay a benefit up to the daily or monthly maximum. The amount can be paid to the insured that would then pay the care provider, or the insured can arrange for the care provider to bill the insurance company directly. There is also the option of advanced benefit riders, which are fairly inexpensive additions to a life insurance policy that allow the death benefit to be paid in advance of death if the funds are needed for long-term care.

While it’s difficult to predict what kind of long-term care you might need, clients need to know that a plan for the future is necessary.  Although many people think “it won’t happen to me,” 70% of people over the age of 65 will need some time of long-term assistance during their retirement. 


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Physicians Order for Life Sustaining Treatment

In the most recent Caregiver Chronicle I wrote an article on the POLST program  and how it’s going to help people with their end of life planning. Sometimes people are put in situations where they can’t make their own decisions and the families’ decisions are not always what the person at risk actually wants. In order to put a stop to this new developments to the POLST program have been implemented.

The main purpose of the POLST program is for family members and elders are on the same page in the case an emergency was to occur. It is simply an approach to end of life planning based on conversations with everyone involved in a persons life. Once this is done, wishes are documented and in the end honored which leaves no room for error when end of life planning is needed.

During the past year, the FSU Center for Innovative Collaboration in Medicine and Law has been working on a project funded by a grant from the Retirement Research Foundation, administered through the Oregon Health & Sciences University.  The purpose of this project was to produce a set of materials that medical schools and law schools in Florida could use, if they wish, in teaching their students about POLST.  We have now completed this project and sent the teaching materials to every medical school, law school, nursing school, and social work school in Florida.  We also are pleased to make these Florida POLST teaching materials available to you and the public, by posting the materials on the center website where these materials are the first item listed under the heading “POLST Information and Further Reading.”

 


Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Importance of Updating Your Estate Plan

Although most wealthy individuals have an estate plan in place, simply executing one is not always sufficient.  Many people forget about their estate plan soon after it has been implemented; it’s easy to simply file it away and forget about it.  However, those who do not frequently update and review their estate plans may render their estate plan’s intent unclear. 

Checkups with an estate planning attorney are necessary to ensure that an outdated or inadequate estate plan does not cause any dispute between heirs. Other major life events may also require changes in your estate plan.  Some of the best times to update your estate plan include:

  • When there is a meaningful change in your life (marriage, birth of a child, launch of a business).
  • Every few years to account for any changing laws.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Protecting Yourself from Financial Abuse

Unfortunately the reality is that the public takes advantage of the elderly and will take their money any way they can. In order to prevent yourself from being a victim of these crimes, staying informed is crucial. Knowing how to prevent financial abuse and knowing what to do if you think you’ve been robbed will go a long way and keep you independent and safe from financial fraud.

A few simple tips can allow you to keep your financial information confidential and safe. First, never share numbers with anyone unless you already know and trust them. Handing out credit card numbers over the phone can be a huge mistake.

Never pay money upfront, and only appoint someone you trust to handle your money if you can’t do it yourself. These simple tips go a long way and can save you money.

In the case that you think you are being robbed the first thing to do is to say something. Keeping this information to yourself will only make the problem worse. Report the loss of money to adult protective services and law enforcement, then make sure to file a complaint to the company you believe is a part of the financial abuse.

You can take control of your life and prevent financial abuse, as long as you stay informed. Here's a video of Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Richard Cordray speaking on elder financial abuse.


Monday, June 23, 2014

New Law Paves the Way for Greater Elder Abuse Prosecution

With the Governor’s signature making it official last Friday, Florida's senior citizens now have a new and effective tool to fight elder exploitation. The nationally groundbreaking legislation, which was the centerpiece of the legislative agenda this year for the Florida Bar's Elder Law Section, makes it easier for law enforcement to prosecute those who prey on our most vulnerable citizens by providing additional protections and harsher penalties.

Working with, Adult Protective Services, state law enforcement, prosecutors and State Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, the Elder Law Section constructed legislation that includes:

  • A "presumption of exploitation" when a predator takes advantage of an elderly or disabled victim in certain circumstances.
  • Deleting a requirement that the property of an elderly person or disabled adult be obtained by deception or intimidation in order to constitute exploitation.
  • Decreasing the property threshold values for exploitation.
  • Creating criminal penalties for those who exploit through joint accounts that were intended for convenience.
  • Creating a constitutionally sound hearsay exception for victims, to allow an out of court statement by an elderly person or disabled adult to be admissible in certain circumstances.

This is long-awaited and critical law that is terrific news for our elder population.


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