Senior Woman Comforting Man With Depression At Home

A Designer Has Created Tableware to Help People With Dementia

Senior woman comforting man with Dementia at home

Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases can make even basic tasks extraordinarily difficult. Designer Sha Yao saw this firsthand when her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In response, she created Eatwell, a seven-piece tableware set. It features bright, primary colors, which Yao chose based on a Boston University study that showed individuals with cognitive impairment consumed 84 percent more liquid and 24 percent more food when they were served in brightly-colored containers.

Other features of the tableware set include cups and bowls with angled bases. This allows contents to shift naturally to one side and make them easier to drink or scoop up. The accompanying spoons are ergonomically designed to correspond to the contours of the bowls. In addition, the tableware set has holes with flaps at the edge of the tray where a napkin, bib or apron can be tucked to prevent spills. The set’s drinkware features wide bases, reducing the likelihood that they will be knocked over.

“Raising awareness and addressing the needs of people with impairments will allow them to maintain their dignity, retain as much independence as possible, and reduce the burden on their caretakers,” said Yao. “That’s what made designing the Eatwell tableware set so rewarding.”

Learn more about the set here.

Contact Us

If you have additional questions or concerns regarding estate planning and Dementia, contact the experienced New York Elder Law attorneys at Amoruso & Amoruso LLP by calling (914) 253-9255 to schedule an appointment.

Smiling young man

The Gift That Keeps on Giving: Paying Your Grandchildren’s College Tuition

Paying your grandchildren’s (or adult children’s) college tuition is one of the greatest gifts you can make. The education lasts a lifetime and opens a world of opportunity for your grandchildren. In a way, it is like giving a gift to your children as well, since it alleviates their concerns about paying for their children’s education on their own. And when done correctly, the gift of a college education can be an excellent estate planning tool.

Smiling young man

One way to help pay for your grandchildren’s education is to simply give them part or all of the money to cover tuition. The gift tax exclusion is currently $15,000 per person per year, and $30,000 for a married couple, which can go a long way toward covering the tuition for most colleges. Of course, giving the money to your grandchildren directly carries with it a big risk. Are they genuinely interested in using the money to get an education, or will they suddenly decide a year abroad, funded by your gift, might “better prepare them” for college?

A safer approach is to pay the college directly. In this case, the tuition payment is exempt from gift taxes, meaning you could also make a gift to cover other expenses such as room and board, books and other fees. The same $15,000/$30,000 gift tax exemption mentioned above still applies.

Finally, you could contribute to a 529 college savings plan, which is offered on the state level. A 529 plan is a college savings account that is exempt from federal taxes. 529 plans were introduced in 1996 to help taxpayers set aside college expenses for a designated beneficiary. Named for Section 529 of the federal tax code, these plans often have tax benefits at the state level for in-state residents. (This applies only in states that have an income tax.) If the maximum deduction is exceeded in a calendar year, the deduction can often roll over into later years. It is important to note that each state enforces a specific total contribution limit, which are typically between $235,000 and $520,000.

Some of these plans allow for the use of various investment options. Others, known as prepaid tuition plans, let you lock in at the current cost of tuition in place of the future cost. A 529 account is not owned by the grandchild—in most cases, one of the parents owns the account, so if your grandchild does not attend college when the time comes, he or she cannot access the money. Similarly, if your grandchild doesn’t want to attend a university covered by the 529 account, allowances can be made to use the funds elsewhere.

Before deciding whether to pay your grandchildren’s tuition using any of these strategies, you must first ask yourself one very important question: “Can I afford it?” You need to consider not just if you can afford it today, but whether you will be able to afford it ten, twenty years down the road. We can help you determine whether you can indeed afford to help your grandchildren pay for college, and if so, the best strategy for your particular situation. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

family man

Managing Your Loved One’s Legal Needs: A Checklist for Caregivers

Serving as a caregiver may require you to oversee your loved one’s legal affairs. A recent article on AARP’s website addressed this issue and included a legal checklist for Caregivers. Here are the highlights.

Obtain Essential Legal Documents

Your loved one should have the following key legal documents: a Will, a Power of Attorney, and  Advance Directives. We will discuss these documents in greater detail later. For now, it is important to note that these documents should be created, signed, and witnessed while your loved one is still capable of making legal decisions on his or her own.

Get the Whole Family Involved

It is important to have everyone in the family participate in caregiving decisions whenever possible. You may even want to put into writing “who is responsible for what.” While this is not a legal document, it can help avoid disagreements in the future.

Love One Another - Focus on the Family

Organize Your Loved One’s Important Papers

In addition to the essential legal documents mentioned above, you’ll want to find and organize a number of other documents, including:

  • Birth and Marriage Certificates
  • Divorce Decree
  • Citizenship Papers
  • Death Certificate of a Spouse or Parent
  • Deeds to Cemetery Plots
  • Military Discharge Papers
  • Insurance Policies
  • Pension Benefits

Investigate Opportunities for Financial Assistance

There are a number of programs and services available to elders and/or individuals with disabilities. These include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), veterans benefits, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicare, and Medicaid. You can use online tools like the AARP Foundation’s Local Assistance Directory and the National Council on Aging’s Benefits Checkup to determine local, state, and federal programs for which your loved one might be eligible.

 

You should also examine your loved one’s retirement and insurance plans to see if any of them cover in-home care, skilled nursing care, mental health services, physical therapy, and other forms of short-term assistance. Your loved one’s life insurance policy might even provide accelerated death payments to help pay for long-term care.

 

Also, if you must take a leave of absence from your job to care for a loved one, you may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. In addition, some employers offer paid family leave, and five states (New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and California) plus the District of Columbia have laws mandating paid leave for caregiving. Several other states are set to implement such laws by 2023.

Explore Tax Breaks and Life Insurance Deals

Your loved one may be able to receive federal tax deductions for health care expenses such as a wheelchair or hospital bed, remodeling the home to make it more accessible, and hiring a short-term or part-time home health aide to provide respite for the primary caregiver. Be sure to save receipts for all medical expenses.

 

You can read the entire AARP article here:

https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/financial-legal/info-2020/caregivers-legal-checklist.html

house

A Change to the Rules Governing Reverse Mortgages Provides Greater Protection for Non-Borrowing Spouses

A reverse mortgage is a loan that allows homeowners age 62 or older to borrow against the equity in their homes and receive a lump sum, a fixed monthly payment, or a line of credit. Reverse mortgages are often used by seniors to augment their income in retirement.

Reverse Mortgage Loans - DG Law

Federal laws governing reverse mortgages have evolved over the years. In May, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) issued a new rule increasing protection for non-borrowing spouses—that is, the spouses of individuals with reverse mortgages who are not named in the loan itself. Let’s take a brief look at the recent history of reverse mortgages to understand why this change is important and how it will benefit non-borrowing spouses.

 

In the past, if one spouse was under 62 years of age, he or she could not be named in the loan if the couple wanted to get a reverse mortgage. This had the potential for financial catastrophe. If only one spouse was on the mortgage, and that spouse passed away, the surviving spouse would have to repay the loan or be faced with eviction from the family home.

 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development made a change to this rule in 2014 that offered greater protection for some surviving spouses. The change stipulated that a couple with one spouse under the age of 62 could get a reverse mortgage if the underage spouse was classified as a “non-borrowing spouse.” Then, if the older spouse passed away, the non-borrowing spouse could remain in the home as long as he or she established, within 90 days, his or her “right” to do so. This right could be established in a number of ways, such as through a lease, a court order, or an ownership document.

 

Unfortunately, the 2014 change only applied to reverse mortgages taken out after the law became effective and it did not protect the spouses of borrowers who were forced to leave the family home due to medical problems.

 

The FHA’s new rule corrects these shortcomings and increases protection for the following:

 

  • All non-borrowing spouses rather than just those whose reverse mortgages went into effect after 2014
  • Non-borrowing spouses of borrowers who resided in a care facility for 12 consecutive months or more
  • Spouses who were in a committed relationship with the borrower when the reverse mortgage was initiated but could not marry because of same-sex marriage prohibition… as long as the couple married before the borrower passed away

 

In addition, the new rule eliminates the requirement for non-borrowing spouses to show they have a title or legal right to stay in the family home.

 

Sadly, the new rule fails to protect spouses who weren’t married to the borrower when the reverse mortgage was initiated (with the exception, again, of same-sex couples who were unable to marry legally). Nor can the non-borrowing surviving spouse receive a reverse mortgage’s remaining balance.

5 star quality rating system

Finding the Right Nursing Home: Don’t Rely Entirely on the Five-Star Quality Rating System.

5 star quality rating system

The Five-Star Quality Rating System was created in 2008 by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). It has become a popular tool for families to find a quick summary of a given nursing home’s overall level of quality. CMS posts its ratings on the medicare.gov website.

Unfortunately, the accuracy of this rating system is open to question. An investigation by the New York Times, in particular, reveals a number of shortcomings. Let’s begin by looking at how the system operates.

Ratings are based on a combination of self-reported data from 15,000-plus nursing homes, as well as on-site examinations conducted by state health inspectors. A nursing home’s overall score, its star rating, depends on the results of the inspection, the amount of time nurses devote to residents, and the quality of care received by residents.

To evaluate the rating system’s reliability, the New York Times created a database with millions of payroll records to analyze the amount of hands-on care residents actually received in nursing homes. The Times also examined 373,000 reports by state inspectors, and the financial statements 10,000-plus nursing homes submitted to the government. Additionally, The Times was able to access data that is not readily available to the public.

This investigation revealed that nursing homes had submitted inaccurate information, thereby making themselves look safer and cleaner than they actually were. Other erroneous information included exaggerated levels of staffing, underreporting the use of potentially hazardous antipsychotic drugs, and minimizing the number of health problems and accidents among residents. Worse, when even highly rated nursing homes were inspected by CMS investigators in person, they were just as likely to fail the inspection as pass it; information submitted by nursing home operators and owners was rarely audited; nursing homes may have been tipped off before unscheduled, impromptu inspections; and inspectors frequently minimized violations they discovered at highly rated nursing homes, which allowed these facilities to maintain their stars.

All of this is troubling, to say the least. It suggests that a nursing home’s five-star rating should be taken with a grain of salt, or perhaps even a shakerful. It also reminds us of the importance of closely scrutinizing every aspect of a given nursing home oneself. AARP provides a detailed checklist to help you evaluate a nursing home on a wide range of crucial criteria. Download the checklist here.

Alphabet letter wooden blocks with words GIVE in child and parents hands. Family and charity concept

Giving to Charity Wisely During the Holidays

Giving to charity concept: Alphabet letter wooden blocks with words GIVE in child and parents handsAs we enter the holiday season, many of us will consider making gifts to charity. It is estimated that nonprofits receive 40 percent of their annual donations between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

If you are thinking about giving to charity this season, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance offers the following tips to help ensure your gift goes to legitimate organizations and does the most good.

Beware of similar names when giving to charity

Charities seeking support for the same cause often have similar names. Before making a donation, be sure you have the exact name of the charity to avoid a case of mistaken identity.

Review the charity’s website carefully

A responsible charity should have a website that provides the following information: its mission and programs, measurable goals, and concrete descriptions of its achievements. In addition, you should be able to find information about the charity’s finances. Bear in mind that the type of work a charity does will impact its costs.

Be cautious about highly emotional appeals

Marketers sometimes exploit the holidays and create highly emotional pleas to donors. Try not to make an impulse decision based purely on emotion. Instead, do some research to verify that the charity in question is legitimate and operates ethically.

Think twice before giving to unfamiliar organizations requesting donations outside public buildings

The holidays also bring a higher number of donation requests from people standing in front malls, grocery stores, and other public property. If you are not familiar with the organization, don’t succumb to pressure to make an immediate giving decision.

When in doubt, check with state charity officials

In many states, charities must register with the office of the attorney general before soliciting donations. Checking with the appropriate office in your state is an easy way to determine whether or not an organization is legitimate. You can find this information on the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO) website.

Avoid charities that do not disclose requested information to BBB

Even though participation is voluntary, charities that do not disclose any of the information requested by BBB WGA should raise a red flag. To find out if the charity you have in mind has provided requested information, visit Give.org.

Research a charity’s tax status

Do not assume that every organization claiming to do good is a tax-exempt charity. You can check an organization’s tax status with the IRS Tax Exempt Organization Search tool.

Charitable giving allows you to assist the people and organizations that have come to mean the most to you over the course of your life. It represents a thoughtful expression of your values and can ensure your legacy for generations to come. When done properly, it can also create an income stream and, if you are itemizing deductions, lower your taxes.

We welcome the opportunity to make giving to charity part of your overall estate plan. Simply contact us to discuss your particular charitable goals.

Senior Woman Sitting On Sofa At Home thinking about Social Security

What Women Need to Know about Social Security

Senior Woman Sitting On Sofa At Home thinking about Social Security While Social Security is a crucial component of many Americans’ retirement income, it is particularly important to women. According to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, 48 percent of elderly unmarried women relied on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their total income in 2017.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has written a booklet detailing what women should know about Social Security. Here are the highlights:

NOTHING KEEPS WOMEN FROM GETTING THEIR OWN SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

  • If you’ve worked and paid taxes into the Social Security system for at least 10 years, and have earned a minimum of 40 work credits, you can collect your own benefits as early as age 62
  • Social Security benefits are based on your lifetime earnings. SSA adjusts (or “indexes”) your actual earnings to account for changes in average wages since the year the earnings were received. Then, SSA calculates your average indexed monthly earnings during the 35 years in which you earned the most. SSA applies a formula to these earnings and arrives at your basic benefit, which is called your “primary insurance amount”
  • If you become disabled before your full retirement age, you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits if you’ve worked and paid Social Security taxes in five of the last ten years
  • If you receive a pension from a job where you didn’t pay Social Security taxes, such as a civil service or teacher’s pension, your Social Security benefit might be reduced

THERE IS NO “MARRIAGE PENALTY”

  • If you are married and both you and your spouse have worked and earned enough credits individually, you can each receive your own Social Security benefit. For example, if you are due a Social Security benefit of $1,200 per month and your spouse is due a Social Security benefit of $1,400 per month, you can receive $2,600 per month in retirement benefits.

IF YOU’RE DUE TWO BENEFITS, YOU GENERALLY RECEIVE THE HIGHER RATE, NOT BOTH

  • As a spouse, if you are eligible for benefits based on both your own work record and that of your spouse, you may be required to file for both benefits. If so, you generally receive the higher benefit amount
  • A wife with no work record or a low benefit entitlement on her own work record is eligible for between one-third and one-half of her spouse’s Social Security benefit
  • Most working women who reach retirement age receive their own Social Security benefit because it’s more than one-third to one-half of the husband’s rate
    If your spouse dies before you do, you can apply for the higher widow’s rate. (You’ll find more information about that below)

IF YOU ARE DIVORCED BUT WERE MARRIED FOR AT LEAST 10 YEARS, YOU MAY BE ELIGIBLE FOR SOME OF YOUR EX’S SOCIAL SECURITY

  • Divorced women who were married for at least 10 years may be eligible for Social Security based on their ex-spouse’s record. This applies only if you are unmarried and not entitled to a higher benefit on your own record when you become eligible for Social Security
  • Some women sign divorce decrees relinquishing their rights to Social Security on their ex-spouse’s record. However, clauses like these in divorce decrees are rarely enforced
  • Benefits paid to a divorced spouse DO NOT reduce payments made to the ex or any payments due the ex’s current spouse
  • Generally, the payment rules that apply to divorced wives and widows are the same as the rules that apply to current wives and widows. This means most divorced women collect their own Social Security while the ex is alive, but they can then apply for higher widow’s rates when the ex dies

WHEN YOUR EX DIES, YOU MAY BE DUE A WIDOW’S BENEFIT

  • Widows are eligible for between 71 percent (at age 60) and 100 percent (at full retirement age) of what their spouse was getting before the spouse passed away
  • SSA must pay your own retirement benefit first, then supplement it with whatever extra benefits you are due as a widow to take your Social Security benefit up to the widow’s rate
  • SSA also can pay you a $255 one-time death benefit if you were living with your spouse when your spouse died
  • If you made more money than your spouse (or ex-spouse), then your spouse might be due a survivor’s benefit if you die before your spouse does

You can learn more by reading the SSA publication What Every Woman Should Know, which is available for free.

Couple looking over the medicaid look-back period on their laptop

What is the Medicaid Look-Back Period?

Couple looking over the medicaid look-back period on their laptopMedicaid can pay for the long-term institutional care of individuals who meet certain income and asset requirements. However, if the applicant’s assets and income exceed these limits, he or she may not qualify for Medicaid assistance until the limits are met. Given the high cost of long-term care, people sometimes try to give away their assets before applying for Medicaid in order to become eligible. Of course, state Medicaid agencies want to prevent this, so they require the applicant to disclose all financial transactions made in the last five years. (California is an exception and only requires disclosure of financial transactions made in the last 30 months.)

This five-year period is known as the “look-back period.” In essence, state Medicaid agencies are “looking back” for assets transferred at less than fair market value. If the state Medicaid agency determines that such a transfer was made, it will impose a “penalty period.” And what is the penalty? It is a period of time during which the applicant will be deemed ineligible for Medicaid. The penalty period is calculated by dividing the amount the applicant has transferred by the state’s average cost for private pay institutional care.

Any asset transfer can be scrutinized, regardless of size. Exceptions are not made for gifts to children or grandchildren, charitable donations, or other transfers that seem like “no big deal.” Similarly, informal payments to caregivers or loans to family members can raise red flags. In short, the applicant is considered guilty until proven innocent. The burden of proof lies with the applicant.

It is worth noting that transferring assets to certain recipients will not trigger a penalty period. These recipients include a spouse (or a transfer to someone else if it is for the benefit of the spouse); a trust for the sole benefit of a disabled or blind child; and a trust for the sole benefit of a disabled individual under age 65. The applicant’s home can also be transferred to these recipients without penalty, as well as to all of the following individuals:

  • A child under the age of 21
  • A blind or disabled child
  • A “caretaker child” who resided in the home for two years or more before the applicant required institutional care, and whose care permitted the applicant to delay his or her move to a long-term care facility
  • A sibling who lived in the home during the year preceding the applicant’s move to the institution and who has equity in the property

With proper planning it is possible to protect your assets against the transfer penalty. Even if you have already made asset transfers in the last five years and will be applying for Medicaid soon, we may still be able to protect a portion of your life savings.

Estate planning handwriting sign on the sheet.

Why Your Estate Plan Must Include More than a Will

Estate planning handwriting sign on the sheet.A Last Will and Testament is an essential legal document that allows you to accomplish a number of important goals. You can name your beneficiaries and specify the assets you want them to receive; name a guardian for your minor children; and choose the person you want to settle your estate (known as the Executor).

In short, a Will helps ensure your wishes are carried out after you pass away. However, it does not ensure that your wishes regarding your finances and medical care will be followed if you become incapacitated. For that you will need other essential documents.

Power of Attorney for Health Care

A Power of Attorney for Health Care, also known as a Health Care Proxy, allows you to name a person you trust to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are no longer able to make them on your own. Medical decisions covered by your Power of Attorney for Health Care can include choice of doctors and other health care providers; types of treatments; long-term care facilities; end-of-life decisions, such as the use of feeding tubes; and do not resuscitate orders.

Power of Attorney for Finances

Similar in concept to the Power of Attorney for Health Care, a Power of Attorney for Finances allows you to designate another person to make decisions about your finances, such as income, assets, and investments, when you can longer make them yourself.

By choosing your decision-makers in advance through powers of attorney, you and your loved ones can avoid the expense, stress, delays, and potential for family infighting associated with a court-ordered guardianship proceeding.

Living Will

A Living Will allows you to express your wishes regarding what medical treatments you want, or do not want, in an end of life situation. A Living Will differs from a Power of Attorney for Health Care in that it details your specific wishes, whereas a Power of Attorney for Health Care allows someone else to make health care decisions for you. Another benefit of a Living Will is that it spares your loved ones from having to make difficult decisions about your care without knowing what you would have wanted.

HIPAA Release

A HIPPA Release lets you choose who can receive information about your medical condition. Hospitals and medical providers can be prosecuted for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) if they reveal your medical information to people not named in your HIPPA Release.

To ensure your wishes are carried out while you are alive and after you pass away, your estate plan should include all of the legal documents mentioned above.

Of course, estate planning can help you accomplish many other goals as well. For example, with a Revocable Living Trust your estate won’t have to go through probate. This will expedite the distribution of estate assets to loved ones and keep your financial information private. A Revocable Living Trust also allows you to stipulate when and under what conditions your heirs will receive their assets, which is useful if you think your children are not yet mature enough to handle an inheritance. Other tools, such as an Irrevocable Trust, can protect your assets against threats like long-term care costs, divorce, creditors, lawsuits, and more.

We invite you to contact us at your earliest convenience to discuss your unique planning needs and goals.

Woman preparing home budget, using laptop and calculator. Woman going through bills, looking worried. Shot of a senior woman using a laptop and calculator while working from home

Should You Be Concerned About Changes to the Step-up in Basis?

Woman preparing home budget, using laptop and calculator. Woman going through bills, looking worried. Shot of a senior woman using a laptop and calculator while working from homeWhenever a new president takes office, “discussions” about taxes are sure to follow. During his campaign, President Biden proposed a number of changes to the tax code that would affect wealthy Americans. One proposal, however, could impact people of more modest means: modifications to, or the elimination of, the basis step-up rule.

What do we mean by step-up in basis? Basis, in this case, refers to the value of an inherited asset for tax purposes. One could use the value of the asset when it was originally purchased, or one could use the value of the asset when the original owner passed away and the asset was bequeathed to a beneficiary. The latter value could be considerably higher than the original purchase price.

A step-up in basis uses the higher value, the “stepped-up” value. Assessing the value of an inherited asset in this way translates into lower capital gains tax liability. Let’s look at a hypothetical example.

Say an investor purchased 1000 shares of stock at five dollars a share, meaning the investment was originally worth $5,000. Over time, the value of the stock increased to 25 dollars per share and the original investment was now worth $25,000, a gain of $20,000. When the investor passed away, she left that stock to her son. Without a step-up in basis, the son could be responsible for paying capital gains tax on that $20,000 increase in value. However, with a step-up in basis, any capital gains tax would be based on the stepped-up value of $25,000. If the son sold the stock at the same price he inherited it, he would not have to pay capital gains tax on the $20,000 increase in the value.

The step-up in basis also applies to other appreciated assets, such as a house. Let’s say a property that originally cost $200,000 was worth $400,000 when the original purchaser passed away. If the house was left to the purchaser’s daughter, the step-up in basis would mean the daughter doesn’t have to pay capital gains tax on the $200,000 increase in value (from $200,000 to $400,000). Instead, the value of the property would be “stepped up” to $400,000 for tax purposes.

You can see how the step-up in basis can dramatically lower one’s capital gains tax liability. Eliminating it could have serious financial consequences for the beneficiaries of appreciated assets.

It is important to note that the elimination of the step-up in basis, or even a modification of it, is by no means a certainty. According to the Tax Policy Center, efforts to eliminate the step-up in basis were made in 1976, 2001, and 2015. And while several senators have announced a bill designed to put an end to the step-up in basis, the passage of such a bill could prove difficult in an evenly divided senate. President Biden’s latest proposal would eliminate the step-up in basis to gains over $1 million, with protections for farms and family-owned businesses given to heirs.

For now, it’s all talk. Fortunately, with proper planning, it is possible to protect your assets, inherited or otherwise, against changes to the tax code.

We invite you to contact us at your earliest convenience to discuss your unique planning needs and goals.