Heir hunters and their contracts under Ohio law

There are firms known as heir hunters or heir search firms who search probate court records for estates of persons who pass away without a will and whose potential heirs are unknown. They perform a search to find out the names and addresses of these missing heirs. Next they send a letter along with a contract to this person for their signature. The contract offers to help them receive their inheritance for a fee which may be as much as one half of the amount to be inherited. If this contract is signed and returned to them, they refer this matter to an attorney with whom they have a working relationship. This attorney will notify the person that they will be representing them. If retained, the attorney will notify the attorney for the estate of their representation of this person. All further notices will then come to this attorney.

The amount of fees charged by these contracts has been the subject of much litigation and controversy. These fees are outrageously high and take advantage of a person that has no information on the estate. It is the duty of the executor of the estate to search for and notify these persons of their right to inherit. However, this often is not done and many courts appear to allow the estate administration to proceed without requiring the executor to do so. Many states have specific laws prohibiting or regulating these type of contracts. Typically these type of estates involve funds held in the state’s unclaimed funds department.

Ohio law regulates these contracts with respect to any part of an estate containing funds on deposit with the state’s unclaimed funds. Under this law these contracts are limited to a charge of no more than 10% of the unclaimed funds. The heir search firm must registered with the state of Ohio or their contract is unenforceable. They are also prohibited from sending any notice within two years of the date of report of the unclaimed funds to the state. This law only applies to estates with money due from the state’s unclaimed funds. However, these contracts have also been held to be invalid by some courts on other legal grounds.

What should you do if you receive this type of contract from an heir search firm? First, you should do nothing immediately. There’s no rush to sign and return the contract. You should try to do your own research on the Internet or check other resources to determine what relative of yours may have passed away leaving you an inheritance. Contact your relatives who may have received the same letter from the heir hunter. You should go back up your family tree considering names of ancestors especially those who may not have had children. Such a person is more likely to have passed away without any will or anyone who stepped forward to open up the estate. Of course, the heir search firm will not give you any of this information. In theory, if you are entitled to inherit from the estate you do not need to sign an heir hunter contract. However, if the executor does not have your name and address, you will not receive anything.

You should also not sign any contract without first seeking legal advice. If your search is unsuccessful, the attorney may be able to refer you to an heir search firm that will charge you a reasonable hourly charge. You should also contact other relatives who may have received a similar notice. You may be able to share the cost of the attorney and heir search fee. You might also wish to check your state’s unclaimed funds website searching under the name of any potential relative or contact the state unclaimed funds department concerning the letter you received.
If you are unsuccessful with all the above inquiries and searches, then your last resort is to hire the heir search firm.

For more information see: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=2ahUKEwisxLTa2_TlAhWtJjQIHez9BWoQFjABegQIABAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.leg.state.nv.us%2FApp%2FNELIS%2FREL%2F79th2017%2FExhibitDocument%2FOpenExhibitDocument%3FexhibitId%3D31510%26fileDownloadName%3DSB%2520376_The%2520Dark%2520Side%2520of%2520the%2520Heir%2520Tracing%2520Industry_John%2520Cahill.pdf&usg=AOvVaw2CHmE39nRFQ0qRUo7Vbc2A 


What Do I Need to Know If I am Contacted by an Heir Hunter

Home Care Costs Rise Sharply in Annual Long-Term Care Cost Survey

When it comes to long-term care costs, the charges for home care are now rising faster than those for nursing home care, according to Genworth's 2019 Cost of Care survey. In the past year, the median annual cost for home health aides rose 4.55 percent to $52,624, while the median cost of a private nursing home room rose only 1.82 percent to $102,200.

Genworth reports that the median cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is $90,155, up 0.96 percent from 2018, and the median cost of assisted living facilities rose 1.28 percent, to $4,051 a month. But home care services had sharper increases. The national median annual rate for the services of a home health aide rose from $22 to $23 an hour, and the cost of adult day care, which provides support services in a protective setting during part of the day, rose from $72 to $75 a day, up 4.17 percent annually.

Alaska continues to be the costliest state for nursing home care by far, with the median annual cost of a private nursing home room totaling $362,628. Oklahoma again was found to be the most affordable state, with a median annual cost of a private room of $67,525.

The 2019 survey, conducted by CareScout for the sixteenth straight year, was based on responses from more than 15,178 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult day health facilities and home care providers.  Survey respondents were contacted by phone during May and June 2019.

As the survey indicates, long-term care is growing ever more expensive. Contact your elder law attorney to learn how you can protect some or all of your family's assets from being swallowed up by these rising costs.

For more on Genworth’s 2019 Cost of Care Survey, including costs for your state, click here.

Three Great Estate Planning seminars are presented by Michael Millonig this October.


Estate Planning For Funerals and Burial : a consumer oriented seminar by Michael J. Millonig, Attorney At Law, Ohio State Bar Association Board Certified Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Specialist, Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation . Time & Place: Friday October 11, 2019 at 1:00 to 2:30 PM at Rec West Enrichment Center,965 Miamisburg-Centerville Rd., Dayton Ohio 45459. Please call Kathy Ferrante at Rec West for reservations (937)432-2839

Estate Planning & Elder Law Overview : seminar by Michael J. Millonig, Attorney At Law, Ohio State Bar Association Board Certified Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Specialist, Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Time & Place: Wednesday, October 23, 2019 at 10:00 to 11:30 AM,  Miamisburg Community Center, 305 East Central Ave., Miamisburg Ohio 45342 . Please call for reservations 866-8999

Protecting Your Estate from Nursing Home Costs: Medicaid eligibility for nursing home costs, Trusts, risks of gifting to children and understanding Medicaid’s gift transfer rule. Presentation by Michael J. Millonig, Attorney At Law, Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation, Ohio State Bar Association Board Certified Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Specialist. Time & Place: Woodbourne Library, 6060 Far Hills Avenue, Dayton Ohio 45459, Saturday, October 26 @ 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM.

Will My Advance Directive Work in Another State?

Making sure your end-of-life wishes are followed no matter where you happen to be is important. If you move to a different state or split your time between one or more states, you should make sure your advance directive is valid in all the states you frequent.

An advance directive gives instructions on the kind of medical care you would like to receive should you become unable to express your wishes yourself, and it often designates someone to make medical decisions for you. Each state has its own laws setting forth requirements for valid advance directives and health care proxies. For example, some states require two witnesses, other states require one witness, and some states do not require a witness at all.

Most states have provisions accepting an advance care directive that was created in another state. But some states only accept advance care directives from states that have similar requirements and other states do not say anything about out-of-state directives. States can also differ on what the terms in an advance directive mean. For example, some states may require specific authorization for certain life-sustaining procedures such as feeding tubes while other states may allow blanket authorization for all procedures.

To find out if your document will work in all the states where you live, consult with an attorney in the state. 


How to Plan Your Funeral

Thinking about your funeral may not be fun, but planning ahead can be exceedingly helpful for your family. It both lets them know your wishes and assists them during a stressful time. The following are steps you can take to plan ahead:

  • Name who is in charge. The first step is to designate someone to make funeral arrangements for you. State Law dictates how that appointment is made. In some states, an informal note is enough. Other states require you to designate someone in a formal document, such as a health care power of attorney. If you do not designate someone, your spouse or children are usually given the task.
  • Put your preferences in writing. Write out detailed funeral preferences as well as the requested disposition of your remains. Would you rather be buried or cremated? Do you want a funeral or a memorial service? Where should the funeral or memorial be held? The document can also include information about who should be invited, what you want to wear, who should speak, what music should be played, and who should be pallbearers, among other information. The writing can be a separate document or part of a health care directive. It should not be included in your will because the will may not be opened until long after the funeral.
  • Shop around. It is possible to make arrangements with a funeral home ahead of time, so your family does not have to scramble to set things up while they are grieving. Prices among funeral homes can vary greatly, so it is a good idea to check with a few different ones before settling on the one you want. The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule requires all funeral homes to supply customers with a general price list that details prices for all possible goods or services. The rule also stipulates what kinds of misrepresentations are prohibited and explains what items consumers cannot be required to purchase, among other things.
  • Inform your family members. Make sure you tell your family members about your wishes and let them know where you have written them down.
  • Figure out how to pay for it. Funerals are expensive, so you need to think about how to pay for the one you want. You can pre-pay, but this is risky because the funds can be mismanaged or the funeral home could go out of business. Instead of paying ahead, you can set up a payable-on-death account with your bank. Make the person who will be handling your funeral arrangements the beneficiary (and make sure they know your plans). You will maintain control of your money while you are alive, but when you die it is available immediately, without having to go through probate. Another option is to purchase a life insurance policy that is specifically for funeral arrangements.

Taking the time to plan ahead will be a big help to your family and give you peace of mind.

For more information on planning your funeral  see http://www.michaelmillonig.com/practice-areas/funerals-burial/

Annual Mental Examination

An annual physical with a doctor is something most of us do. Especially as we get older or if we have a medical problem it is important to monitor our health. What about our mental health? Have you ever thought of having an annual mental checkup? Probably not. I suggest that you should consider this for legal reasons related to your estate planning.

Unfortunately, some family members or other friends often take advantage of an older person by exerting influence on them to change their will or “loan” them money. This is a very common form of elder abuse. If there is a will contest after the person dies or other legal action, a necessary piece of evidence will be proof of the person’s mental competency or lack thereof at the same time as the signing of the will or other elder abuse. This requires that a doctor perform one or more of the competency evaluation tests used by doctors. Many times this medical evidence is just not available. If you had done an annual mental checkup, you would already have this in your medical records. That proof will be essential in a successful will contest or other legal action against a person taking money from a vulnerable older person.

The annual mental checkup with the doctor might even result in suggested medications, treatment or other activities that might improve your mental health.

Estate Planning For Funerals and Burial

This is a consumer oriented seminar by Michael J. Millonig, Attorney At Law, Ohio State Bar Association Board Certified Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Specialist, Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation . Time & Place: Friday October 11, 2019 from 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM. Please call Kathy Ferrante at Rec West Enrichment Center for reservations @ (937)432-2839

Illegal Refusal to return body for transport

There are some other laws that you need to be aware of if you are planning a home funeral. It is possible you might run into a problem with a funeral home, hospital or other official that may refuse to release custody of the body to you. If you are demanding custody of the body for transport, you must be the person holding the right of disposition under Ohio law. This person will be named in a written declaration signed by the decedent. If there is no written declaration, then Ohio law sets forth the persons who are vested with the right of disposition in order of priority. For more information see http://www.michaelmillonig.com/practice-areas/funerals-burial/

It is illegal under Ohio law for anyone to refuse to return custody of a corpse or cremated remains to the person legally entitled to it. This is prohibited under several sections of the Ohio Revised Code with possible penalties and criminal fines. See O.R.C. §4717.13(A)(11), O.R.C. §1713.40 & 1713.41.

Medicare Launches App to Help Beneficiaries Find Out What’s Covered

At the doctor’s office and want to know if a procedure is covered by Medicare? There is an app for that. Medicare has launched a free app that gives beneficiaries a quick way to see whether the program covers a specific medical item or service.

The “What’s Covered” app allows you to search or browse to learn what’s covered and not covered under Medicare Parts A and B, how and when to get covered benefits, basic cost information and other eligibility details. You can also see a list of covered preventive services.  The app does not give results for extra benefits that Medicare Advantage plans may cover but that Original Medicare does not, such as certain vision, hearing or dental benefits.

Examples of the types of questions the app can answer include:

  • When are mammograms covered?
  • Is home health care covered?
  • Will Medicare pay for diabetes supplies?
  • Can I get a regular cervical cancer screening?
  • Will my Medicare benefits cover a service to help me stop smoking?

Although the app provides beneficiaries with basic information, it doesn’t provide personalized information. It doesn’t ask details about each user’s specific insurance information, so it doesn’t take into account the user’s supplemental insurance, co-insurance, and deductibles. Essentially, the app provides another way for Medicare beneficiaries to get the same information that is available online and in the Medicare handbook.

The app is part of an initiative by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) focused on modernizing Medicare and empowering beneficiaries. Other initiatives include:

  • Enhanced interactive online decision support to help beneficiaries better understand and evaluate the coverage options and costs of original Medicare compared to Medicare Advantage plans.
  • New price transparency tools that let consumers compare the national average costs of certain procedures between settings, so people can see what they’ll pay for procedures done in a hospital outpatient department versus an ambulatory surgical center.
  • A new webchat option in the Medicare Plan Finder.
  • New easy-to-use surveys across Medicare.gov so consumers can tell CMS what they want.

To get the new “What’s Covered” app, go here: https://www.medicare.gov/blog/whats-covered-mobile-app.

Home Funerals under Ohio Law: Update

If you plan to hold a home funeral service without use of a funeral home, you have the right to do that under Ohio law. O.R.C. §4717.12. However, this will not be easy to do since the legal system and normal procedures are set up assuming use of funeral home. It will be difficult to obtain a death certificate, burial permit and transport the body without use of a funeral home. However, it can be done. This procedure is outlined below.

1. Ohio law provides that the funeral director or “other person in charge of final disposition” must register the death with the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Thus, you can obtain a death certificate without use of a funeral director. The death certificate form is issued and must be signed by the attending physician or coroner. O.R.C. §3705.16. If a funeral home is not registering the death, then you need to contact the Ohio Dept. of Health, Vital Statistics, in Columbus to get the death certificate. You cannot get the death certificate issued by the County department. Contact information for Columbus is: : VS.Registration@odh.ohio.gov 614-466-2531. You will need a written statement certifying the death from a licensed physician, coroner, or other licensed healthcare professional which you should request immediately.

2. You must call the County Coroner to report the death if the person died as a result of a crime, casualty, suicide, child under age 2, developmentally disabled person, or death in any suspicious or unusual manner. O.R.C. §313.12. If no funeral home is involved, it is probably best to call the Coroner or ask the hospital or nursing home to call the Coroner.

3. The body will need to be removed from the place where the person died. If they are in a hospital, there will be a refrigeration unit for temporary storage. Nursing homes generally do not have a refrigeration unit and you will need to arrange for transportation immediately. You could contact a funeral home to arrange for transportation and temporary storage in a refrigeration unit or embalming if desired. You might be able to use a transport service for transporting the body to a cemetery or crematory but will need to have a death certificate and burial or cremation certificate. In order to find a transport service other than a funeral home, try to find out who is used by the County for indigent persons or by an organization accepting direct body donations. You could perform an internet search for body transport or mortuary transport.

4. After obtaining the death certificate from the Columbus office, you then get the burial or cremation permit from the County Bureau of Vital Statistics. O.R.C. §3705.17 & O.R.C. §4717.22.

5. After all the above are completed, the next step is to make cemetery arrangements for burial or cremation. If you do not use any of the transport options in 3 above, you may want to transport the body by yourself. However, you should be careful since this is unusual. First, you must make sure that you have completed the above steps. The person with the “right of disposition” under Ohio law should be present during transport of the body. You can transport the body to the home or other place of funeral service or to the cemetery. Although there is no law prohibiting a private person transporting a body for this purpose, it is unusual and if you are stopped by the police, you should have a death certificate and burial/transport permit with you If you are transporting the body across State lines, you need to comply with the law of each State which might be different.

6. You can hold a funeral/memorial service at a community facility, family residence or a grave site/cemetery service. The right for a home funeral is preserved in Ohio law. O.R.C. §4717.12.

If you have any problems with the above procedure, please call me for assistance.