Why You Should Keep Your Will Up to Date

Your life isn’t stagnant. Why should your will be? After all, a Last Will and Testament is really a reflection of the life you lead — the things you own, the people love you, and the place you call home. But a life well lived is a life of change.

How long has it been since you last executed or updated your will? Five years? Fifteen? More? How different does your world look today than it did back then?

Some of the top reasons for updating a will in Massachusetts include:

  • Changes in family — Have some of your beneficiaries passed away? Are there new children, grandchildren, or spouses in the picture? Little kids who’ve since grown into full adults? Maybe you’d like to add new nieces, nephews, or in-laws. Or modify your choices for Personal Representative?
  • Changes in assets — Some assets are best addressed with specificity, including many bank accounts, insurance policies, benefit packages, pension plans, and corporate assets. Internet passwords and other modern-day IT considerations are important too. If your estate is significantly bigger, smaller, or otherwise different today, it’s probably time for an updated will.

Even without major changes in your life, it’s a good idea to check in on your estate plan every few years just to make sure there aren’t any gaps. (And remember to always meet with a local lawyer any time you move to a different state!)

Modifying an estate plan is easy with professional guidance. If you’re in Massachusetts and would like to give your Last Will and Testament a second glance, feel free to give me a call.

Posted in Estate Planning, Wills | Leave a comment

Social Security Increase for 2015

Social Security announced this week that 2015 benefits will increase by 1.7%. The increase is ties to the Cost of Living Adjustment, and will begin on December 31, 2014.

All changes to Social Security for 2015

Posted in Activities, News, and Updates, Social Security Benefits | Leave a comment

New Hope for Veterans Discharged Because of PTSD

Previous generations didn’t understand post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as we do today. Unfortunately, that led to many Vietnam-era veterans receiving an other-than-honorable discharge. And for decades, thousands of those people have been denied essential veterans benefits.

That’s all changing now, though, thanks to new guidelines handed down by the U.S. Department of Defense last month. As The New York Times reports, the new rules mark the first time that military review boards are being instructed to consider the role PTSD may have played in the initial discharge.

Advocates for veterans benefits point out that PTSD has a profound influence on behavior and may have been responsible for instances of misconduct that led to the less-than-honorable discharges.

The Defense Department’s new ruling comes on the heels of a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court by Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). The suit — which will go forward despite the new guidelines — argues that military boards routinely denied benefits to veterans who suffered from PTSD. VVA estimates that 250,000 Vietnam vets were discharged other than honorably, and as many as 80,000 of those had PTSD.

If you were discharged less than honorably from the military and are suffering from a denial of benefits because of it, a Massachusetts veterans benefits attorney can help you understand these latest developments in the law.

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How to Age Gracefully: Mind, Body, and Spirit

Each of us comes from a different walk of life, but there’s one thing we have in common: we’re all getting older. Time’s rhythm is steady, and try as we might, everyone ages just a little bit more with each passing day. But surely there’s a difference between aging and aging well.

Not long ago, Boston.com put together a list of ten tips for aging gracefully. Their helpful hints run the gamut from diet and exercise to an active social life, but what struck me most was that all of their advice could really be boiled down to that timeless trio of mind, body, and spirit.

For the mind, they recommend a commitment to good mental health, which might mean counseling or some casual therapy. The article also challenged the elderly to teach themselves something new every day. Curiosity and application keep the mind sharp.

Unsurprisingly, the body got the bulk of their advice — good food, plenty of sleep, and consistent exercise. It’s a good idea to schedule regular checkups with the doctor too, in order to keep an eye on blood pressure, blood sugar, and any suspicious health-related developments.

But I was especially pleased to see some attention paid to the part of us that might get neglected the most: spirit. Boston.com stressed the importance of making friends and spending quality time with the ones you love. You’re never too old for an active social life, and it can do wonders for your health.

Of course, there’s really no dividing line between the mind, the body, and the spirit. What’s good for one is good for the others, and whole-self health may just be the key to a long and happy life.

Posted in Elder Care, Health | Leave a comment

Halloween, Medicare, and The Pumpkin Rule

It’s Halloween time and the smell of pumpkin is in the air. You can’t step inside a coffee shop, bakery, or candle store this time of year without a waft of pumpkin spice greeting you at the door. Pumpkin’s everywhere! Including… Medicare?

en.wikipedia.org

en.wikipedia.org

Back in August 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a new Medicaid rule changing the way hospitals admit incoming patients. Under the new rule, any patient expected to spend more than two midnights must be admitted as “inpatient” rather than for “observation.” Given its Cinderella­-ish parameters, the new edict quickly became known as “The Pumpkin Rule.”

But hospitals don’t like it. Once upon a time, they could classify an elderly patient as an “observation,” even if that person spent multiple nights in the hospital’s care — and charge them higher co-pays accordingly.

The Pumpkin Rule would change all that. Unfortunately, as the Guardian Liberty Voice reports, lobbying by the hospital industry has pushed enforcement back to March 2015.

What does that mean for elderly patients in Massachusetts between now and then? Well, things may not change in time for this Halloween — but the hospital experience could be a little fairer by the time we all say “trick or treat” next year.

More information on Admission vs. Observation Status in a Hospital Setting:

Medicare Booklet: https://www.medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/11435.pdf

Medicare Advocacy Group: Self Help Packets for Consumers http://www.medicareadvocacy.org/take-action/self-help-packets-for-medicare-appeals/

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Estate Planning for the Modern Family

Families come in all shapes, forms, and sizes. As a matter of fact, non-traditional families now outnumber the “traditional” husband-wife-and-children household in America by a margin of about 2%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 report.

Increasingly, clients ask for legal protection for people that might not be covered under conventional estate law— unmarried partners, roommates, members of a blended family, or friends. After all, formal laws don’t change as quickly as the times.

If you’re thinking about how your loved ones may or may not be taken care of after you pass away, it’s important for you to realize that the law doesn’t always see your family the way you do.

You may love someone and spend your life with them, for instance, but state law may still regard that person as a total stranger.

At the end of the day, you decide who matters to you. And you decide the people you want to protect once you’re gone. State statutes may or may not align with your intentions, but an experienced attorney can help you craft legally effective documents that will ensure your wishes are honored in the future.

Safeguarding the modern family might take a few extra steps in the attorney’s office, but when it comes to the people who matter most, it’s worth it.

Posted in Blended Families, Estate Planning, Unmarried Couples | 1 Comment

Inheriting A Collection Is Not Always Easy

When parents die, their adult children inherit many things: money, property, family heirlooms and collectables.

Sometimes, it is hard to figure out what to do with the collectables.

Photos (Photo credits: PB Teen)

Photos (Photo credits: PB Teen)

A story I came across in the New York Times told of a woman who inherited a collection of photographs from her mother who had been a photography editor at a magazine. She gave one of the photos to a friend who noticed it was taken by a renowned photographer. It was worth $14,000.

So she looked through all the photos in the box and found many more by the same photographer. In all, there were about 1,400 photos and she had no idea what they were worth or what to do with them.

While you are not likely to inherit a box of valuable photographs, you never know what you are going to wind up with.

Whatever you end up with, you may want to take steps to preserve the items, organize them and archive them. Then you may want to have them appraised.

The key is finding the right appraiser for the kinds of things you want appraised. And make sure the appraiser is reputable. Take your time doing it.

Posted in Asset Distribution, Collectables, Inheritances | Leave a comment

Don’t Give Away Money Until You Know You Won’t Need It

Many in their 50s and older are thinking about gifting money to their adult children. Many are unsure if they can afford to do so. That’s because the real question they are asking is whether they have saved enough for themselves in retirement.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An article I read on marketwatch.com really zones in on this thorny question and suggests that many people won’t really know the answer to well into older age.

About 17 percent of wealth transfers occur while the giver is still alive, the story says. People enjoy seeing how their gifts are used to improve their loved ones’ lives. They also realize that if they wait too long to give, their heirs will already be old and into retirement before they get a chance to see any money.

But the story says that givers must consider the costs of long-term care when they are doling out gifts. Seven in 10 people are going to need help one day. And Medicare isn’t going to cover long-term care costs in most cases.

If you have long-term care insurance, you are probably going to be more comfortable giving money away while you are still alive. If you don’t have it, you probably will want to be more conservative in your gifting.

Nursing home costs run at least $10,000 a month in most places and most people who need one are going to be there for a few years. Home health aides, if you plan to stay at home, can run $20 an hour.

Medicaid pays for many people’s nursing home stays but you can’t just give away your money to meet the rigorous low income requirements to be covered by that program. There is a five-year look back period.

As a result, the article recommends you having enough money in the bank to cover at least five years of nursing home care before starting to gift to others. That’s about $600,000.

And don’t give away money thinking your children will give it back in the event you need it, the story warns. There may be many reasons why they can’t or won’t give it back.

Some people get around this issue by giving away possessions, like a beloved family piano, for example, rather than cash.

But the bottom line, the story says, is that you don’t owe them anything once you’ve raised them and educated them.

Posted in Asset Distribution, Gifting, Long Term Care | Leave a comment

Estate Planning Nightmares To Avoid

When it comes to estate planning, there are some big mistakes that you should take pains to avoid.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Problems can begin when parents and their offspring haven’t talked about the subject. And even when they do, they often don’t get into the proper level of detail.

There can be hurt feelings and misunderstandings as children often view the amount of money each one gets as how much each one was loved.

An article I saw recently on dailyfinance.com lists some of the biggest mistakes that can be made when it comes to estate planning. I thought it would be good to summarize them for you here, and if you want to read the entire story you can click on the link.

Mistakes to avoid:

    1) Failing to plan. The article tells the story of a grandfather whose grandson had put his life on hold to care for the grandfather, yet the grandfather made no estate plans, so when she died, the grandson got no inheritance.

    2) Simple administrative details can get in the way. This is illustrated by the story of a woman whose entire estate went to her new husband, with nothing going to her kids, because she forgot to update her beneficiary designation.

    3) Sibling squabbles. Two children ended up fighting over possessions because their mother’s will did not leave specific items to specific children.

Getting the plan that is right for you takes some time and thought – I call this stage the “Design Meeting.” In some cases, the Design Meeting may actually be two or three separate meetings. But the important thing is that the final documents actually reflect your wishes.

Posted in Asset Distribution, Beneficiary Designations, Estate Planning | Leave a comment

Consider a MOLST form

Many of us have signed a health care proxy form — a legal document in which we appoint someone to make medical decisions for us if we become incapacitated.

But in Massachusetts, and in many other states, there is another form we may want to sign. It is called a MOLST (Medical Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment).

Similar to a prescription, it contains instructions from a doctor to other health care professionals such as emergency responders and nurses about what life-sustaining treatments to try — or not try — on a patient, based on that patient’s wishes.

These treatments might include such things as CPR.  Health professionals are required to try such treatments unless there is a MOLST order in place.

If the person is mentally incapacitated, the MOLST order can be signed by the person’s health care agent, named in the proxy.

Even if the person has a DNR or “do not resuscitate” order in place, a MOLST order may be signed. It can cover resuscitation and other forms of life-sustaining treatments.

If you have signed a MOLST and want to change your mind, you can still ask for treatment and/or have the order voided.

The order should be kept in a place where it can easily be found such as on the refrigerator and may want to carry a copy when leaving the house.

More information on MOLST can be found here:

http://molst-ma.org/consumers/faq

Posted in Advance Directives | Leave a comment