LegalJourney Blog

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Basics of Guardianships (Conservatorships)

Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. A tragic accident. A sudden, devastating illness. Have you ever wondered what would happen if a loved one became incapacitated and unable to take care of himself? While many associate incapacity with a comatose state, an individual, while technically functioning, may be considered incapacitated if he cannot communicate through speech or gestures and is unable sign a document, even with a mark. In some cases, an individual may have no trouble communicating, but may not be able to fully appreciate the consequences of their decisions and hence may be deemed to lack capacity. With proper incapacity planning which includes important legal documents such as a durable power of attorney, healthcare proxy and living will, the individuals named in such documents are empowered to make necessary financial and medial decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person without obtaining additional legal authorization. Without proper incapacity planning documents, even a spouse or adult child cannot make financial and healthcare decisions on behalf of an incapacitated individual. In such cases, a guardianship (or conservatorship) proceeding is necessary so that loved ones are able to provide for their financial and medical healthcare needs.

A guardianship is a court proceeding where a judge appoints a responsible individual to take care of the adult in question and manage his or her finances and make medical decisions. Once appointed by the court, the guardian will take over the care of the ward (disabled adult). When appropriate, the court may designate an individual “guardian of the assets” to handle the disabled person’s financial needs and another person “guardian of the person” to manage his healthcare needs. One person can also serve as both. If you are planning to serve as someone’s financial guardian, be prepared to possibly post a bond that serves as a safeguard for the ward’s estate.

To minimize the incidence of mismanagement or fraud, the court holds the guardian legally responsible for providing it with regular reports, called an accounting. Additionally, the guardian may not be able to make any major life or medical decisions without the court’s approval and consent. For example, if you have been named the guardian for a relative, you may not be able to sell his or her house without the approval of the court.

The best safeguard to avoid going through court to get a guardianship would be to establish a durable power of attorney over your finances and healthcare, authorizing a family member or trusted individual to act on your behalf in case of incapacity. While your agents have a legal obligation to act in your best interest they won’t have to post an expensive bond either. Make sure the power of attorney clearly states that it will be effective even if the principal becomes incapacitated.

Contact the LegalJourney Law Firm to schedule a consultation with an Attorney to discuss establishing your durable power of attorney today.

 

 


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Online Social Security Earnings Statements

Review your Social Security earnings and benefits statements online at www.socialsecurity.gov. The Social Security Administrations online program also allows you to estimate your retirement, disability and survivors benefits.

Note: Prior to reviewing statements, users must first create an online account by going to http://www.ssa.gov/mystatement/.

 

 


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Overview of Life Estates

Overview of Life Estates

Establishing a Life Estate is a relatively simple process in which you transfer your property to your children, while retaining your right to use and live in the property. Life Estates are used to avoid probate, maximize tax benefits and protect the real property from potential long-term care expenses you may incur in your later years. Transferring property into a Life Estate avoids some of the disadvantages of making an outright gift of property to your heirs. However, it is not right for everyone and comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Life Estates establish two different categories of property owners: the Life Tenant Owner and the Remainder Owner. The Life Tenant Owner maintains the absolute and exclusive right to use the property during his or her lifetime. This can be a sole owner or joint Life Tenants. Life Tenant(s) maintain responsibility for property taxes, insurance and maintenance. Life Tenant(s) are also entitled to rent out the property and to receive all income generated by the property.

Remainder Owner(s) automatically take legal ownership of the property immediately upon the death of the last Life Tenant. Remainder Owners have no right to use the property or collect income generated by the property, and are not responsible for taxes, insurance or maintenance, as long as the Life Tenant is still alive.

Advantages

  • Life Estates are simple and inexpensive to establish; merely requiring that a new Deed be recorded.
  • Life Estates avoid probate; the property automatically transfers to your heirs upon the death of the last surviving Life Tenant.
  • Transferring title following your death is a simple, quick process.
  • Life Tenant’s right to use and occupy property is protected; a Remainder Owner’s problems (financial or otherwise) do not affect the Life Tenant’s absolute right to the property during your lifetime.
  • Favorable tax treatment upon the death of a Life Tenant; when property is titled this way, your heirs enjoy a stepped-up tax basis, as of the date of death, for capital gains purposes.
  • Property owned via a Life Estate is typically protected from Medicaid claims once 60 months have elapsed after the date of transfer into the Life Estate. After that five-year period, the property is protected against Medicaid liens to pay for end-of-life care.

Disadvantages

  • Medicaid; that 60-month waiting period referenced above also means that the Life Tenants are subject to a 60-month disqualification period for Medicaid purposes. This period begins on the date the property is transferred into the Life Estate.
  • Potential income tax consequences if the property is sold while the Life Tenant is still alive; Life Tenants do not receive the full income tax exemption normally available when a personal residence is sold. Remainder Owners receive no such exemption, so any capital gains tax would likely be due from the Remainder Owner’s proportionate share of proceeds from the sale.
  • In order to sell the property, all owners must agree and sign the Deed, including Life Tenants and Remainder Owners; Life Tenant’s lose the right of sole control over the property.
  • Transfer into a Life Estate is irrevocable; however if all Life Tenants and Remainder Owners agree, a change can be made but may be subject to negative tax or Medicaid consequences.

 

 


Sunday, March 18, 2012

MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse: Crimes of Occasion, Desperation, and Predation Against America’s Elders

Key Findings of study on Elder Financial Abuse1

  • The annual financial loss by victims of elder financial abuse is estimated to be at least $2.9 billion dollars, a 12% increase from the $2.6 billion estimated in 2008.
  • Instances of fraud perpetrated by strangers comprised 51% of the articles. Reports of elder financial abuse by family, friends, and neighbors came in second, with 34% of the news articles followed by reports of exploitation within the business sector (12%) and Medicare and Medicaid fraud (4%).
  • Medicare and Medicaid fraud resulted in the highest average loss to victims ($38,263,136) followed by fraud by business and industry ($6,219,496), family, friends, and neighbors ($145,768), and fraud by strangers ($95,156)
  • To see the full report visit www.metlife.com.

1MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse: Crimes of Occasion, Desperation, and Predation Against America’s Elders

 

 

 


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

You’ve Finally Done Your Healthcare Directives – Now What?

An estimated four out of five Americans do not have any written healthcare/end-of-life directives to aid their loved ones.1

Healthcare directives can be vitally important, as the Terry Schiavo clearly brought to light. These important documents can mean the difference between your health care wishes being carried out or family members fighting over whether a loved one should be placed in a nursing home or removed from life support. Healthcare directives usually include both a healthcare power of attorney and a living will, or a form which is a combination of the two. In a healthcare power of attorney, an individual authorizes another individual to make healthcare decisions for him or her if the individual becomes unable to do so. A living will expresses an individual’s preferences about life support.

Once you have executed your healthcare directives, you may be uncertain as to what to do with them. First, you should make copies of the documents and inform others of their existence. In addition to your health care agent, persons you should consider notifying of the directives include family members and your health care providers.  Ideally, the originals should be kept in a place that is both safe and easily accessible.

You may wish to consider using a secure registry service to store your healthcare directives. Such services allow you to access healthcare directives any time and in any location with access to the Internet.  Some also allow the documents to be accessed via an automated fax-back service. In addition to providing the healthcare directives, many registries also allow caregivers to access information like emergency contacts, allergies, and other pertinent medical information.

You should review your healthcare directives regularly.  As individuals get older, their preferences about health care and life support change, and it’s important that your directives reflect your current health care wishes.   Of course, life changing events such as marriage, divorce, or the death of a loved one typically require changes in those documents to ensure that the people named in them are still those you wish to make decisions on your behalf.  

Moving to another state? Many states provide that healthcare directives prepared in another state are valid, but you should consult an attorney to make sure your wishes will be carried out in the manner you desire.

Establishing your healthcare directives can spare your family a great deal of anguish if they need to make decisions at a time that is already very emotionally-charged. By keeping the documents in a secure place, providing copies to loved ones, and reviewing them regularly, you can be more certain that your healthcare wishes will be carried out.
 

1ABA Division for Media Relations and Communication Services

 

 


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Veterans’ Non-Service Connected Pension Benefits

The Veterans’ Administration’s non-service connected pension program can help supplement the income of elderly or disabled veterans. The VA deems any veteran age 65 or older to be permanently and totally disabled. This “disabled” classification entitles senior citizens who are veterans, or their widows, to tax-free pension payments regardless of their actual physical condition, provided they meet the needs-based criteria.

One significant advantage of this program is that, unlike a traditional service-connected pension, there is no requirement that your injury or disability be tied to your time in service. On the other hand, this is a needs-based assistance program, so many veterans may not qualify for benefits.

To qualify for benefits under the program, you must have served on active duty for at least 90 days, and at least one of those days must have been during a time of war. Additionally, you must not have had a dishonorable discharge from the military.

Periods of war time are determined by the U.S. Congress as follows:

  • Mexican Border Period: May 9, 1916 through April 5, 1917, only if you served in Mexico, on its borders or in adjacent waters
  • World War I: April 6th, 1917 through November 11, 1918, or through April 1, 1920 if you served in Russia
  • World War II: December 7, 1941 through December 31, 1946    
  • Korean Conflict: June 27, 1950 through January 31, 1955
  • Vietnam Era: August 5, 1964 through May 7, 1965, or beginning February 28, 1961 you served in Vietnam
  • Persian Gulf War: August 2, 1990 through the present

Once qualifying military service is established, you must also pass the income and asset tests. The VA must determine that your net worth is not enough to adequately support you during your lifetime. Your vehicle and primary residence are not counted when determining your net worth.  The VA generally caps net worth, exclusive of your car and primary residence, at $80,000 for a married veteran, or $40,000 for a single person.

Additionally, your countable income must be lower than the available pension amount. Fortunately, countable income is offset by your unreimbursed, recurring health care costs, including prescriptions, insurance premiums or assisted living expenses.
 

 

 


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Medicare vs. Medicaid: Similarities and Differences

With such similar sounding names, many Americans mistake Medicare and Medicaid programs for one another, or presume the programs are as similar as their names. While both are government-run programs, there are many important differences. Medicare provides senior citizens, the disabled and the blind with medical benefits. Medicaid, on the other hand, provides healthcare benefits for those with little to no income.

Overview of Medicare
Medicare is a public health insurance program for Americans who are 65 or older. The program does not cover long-term care, but can cover payments for certain rehabilitation treatments. For example, if a Medicare patient is admitted to a hospital for at least three days and is subsequently admitted to a skilled nursing facility, Medicare may cover some of those payments. However, Medicare payments for such care and treatment will cease after 100 days or if the patient stops improving.

Nursing home patients often find their Medicare payments are terminated much sooner than 100 days. If a patient’s condition stops improving, Medicare coverage will be discontinued. For example, many older Americans are suffering from diseases with no known cure, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Disease. Accordingly, it is simply impossible to “rehabilitate” these patients so Medicare typically denies skilled nursing facility coverage in these types of situations.

In summary:

  • Medicare provides health insurance for those aged 65 and older
  • Medicare is regulated under federal law, and is applied uniformly throughout the United States
  • Medicare pays for up to 100 days of care in a skilled nursing facility
  • Medicare pays for hospital care and medically necessary treatments and services
  • Medicare does not pay for long-term care
  • To be eligible for Medicare, you generally must have paid into the system


Overview of Medicaid
Medicaid is a state-run program, funded by both the federal and state governments. Because Medicaid is administered by the state, the requirements and procedures vary across state lines and you must look to the law in your area for specific eligibility rules. The federal government issues Medicaid guidelines, but each state gets to determine how the guidelines will be implemented.

In summary:

  • Medicaid is a health care program based on financial need
  • Medicaid is regulated under state law, which varies from state to state
  • Medicaid will cover long-term care
     

 

 


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Day 8: Free Power of Attorney and Declaration of Preneed Guardian

Day 8: Free Power of Attorney and Declaration of Preneed Guardian1

The first 3 individuals who contact the LegalJourney Law Firm using the "Contact the Firm" option on www.legaljourney.com will receive a free Florida Power of Attorney and a free Florida Declaration of Preneed Guardian.

The LegalJourney Law Firm’s Day 8 offer includes: an interview with an attorney, a customized power of attorney, a customized declaration of preneed guardian and notarization of your documents.

To find out additional details, please contact the LegalJourney Law Firm PLLC

1This offer is available until close of business January 11, 2012.

 

 


Monday, January 9, 2012

Day 6: Save $300 on a Trust based Estate Plan

Day 6: Save $300 on a Trust based Estate Plan1

The LegalJourney Law Firm is providing $300 off a “Trust based Estate Plan” for anyone who contacts the firm prior to close of business on January 12, 2012.

The LegalJourney Law Firm’s Trust based Estate Plan includes: a Revocable Trust, a Will, a Living Will, a Health Care Surrogate, HIPPA Authorization and a Durable Power of Attorney.

To find out additional details, please contact the LegalJourney Law Firm PLLC.

1This offer is available until close of business January 12th, 2012.

 

 


Friday, January 6, 2012

Day 5: Free Online Will based Estate Plan Package

Day 5: Free Online Will based Estate Plan Package1

The LegalJourney Law Firm is providing a free “Online Will based Estate Plan Package” for the first 2 individuals who sign up for a new client account via the online legal services link at www.legaljourney.com. 

To set up a free online account:

1.     Go to www.legaljourney.com;

2.     Select “Online Legal Services”;

3.     Select “Register for a New Online Legal Services Account today!"

Create a user account and you will be notified within 24 hours if you will be a recipient of todays offer.

The LegalJourney Law Firm’s Online Will based Estate Plan  Package includes: a Will, a Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney, HIPPA Authorization and Durable Power of Attorney.

To find out additional details, please contact the LegalJourney Law Firm PLLC

1This offer is available until close of business January 6th, 2012.

 

 


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Day 4: Free Declaration of Preneed Guardian

Day 4: Free Declaration of Preneed Guardian1

The first 3 individuals who contact the LegalJourney Law Firm using the "Contact the Firm" option on www.legaljourney.com will receive a free Florida Declaration of Preneed Guardian.

When included as part of your Estate Plan, the declaration of a preneed guardianship can alleviate the stress involved with determining who will become guardian of a loved ones person and property during incapacity.

The LegalJourney Law Firm’s Declaration of Preneed Guardian free offer includes: an interview with an attorney and a customized Declaration of Preneed Guardian.

To find out additional details, please contact the LegalJourney Law Firm PLLC

Florida Statute Section 744.3045 Preneed Guardian States that “a competent adult may name a preneed guardian by making a written declaration that names such guardian to serve in the event of the declarant’s incapacity… ”

1This offer is available until close of business January 5th, 2012.

 

 


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Attorney Karnardo Garnett represents clients with their Estate Planning, Elder Law and Asset Protection needs throughout the Tampa Bay Area, serving all of the bay area, including but not limited to Tampa, Brandon, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Gibsonton, Riverview, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor, Hillsborough County, and Pinellas County, FL



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