Cryonics medical research

A new medical study suggests that our brains and consciousness are still functioning after our hearts stop beating. We apparently still have a functioning brain for at least some short time after we are legally dead. This confirms the rationale behind current cryopreservation procedures for the standby team to initiate vitrification as soon as legally permissible. The fact that the brain may still be in good functioning order means a better chance for a successful preservation and revival. For the full story see: https://www.foxnews.com/science/when-you-die-you-know-youre-dead-because-your-brain-keeps-working-scientist-claims

For information on estate planning and cryonics trusts see:
http://www.michaelmillonig.com/practice-areas/cryonics/

Estate Planning & Elder Law Overview seminar

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: Saturday, May 11, 2019, Woodbourne Library, 6600 Far Hills Ave., Centerville OH 45459 @ 1:00 pm to 2:30 PM. Please call for reservations: [937-610-4429]

Maximizing Social Security Survivor’s Benefits

Social Security survivor’s benefits provide a safety net to widows and widowers. But to get the most out of the benefit, you need to know the right time to claim.

While you can claim survivor’s benefits as early as age 60, if you claim benefits before your full retirement age, your benefits will be permanently reduced. If you claim benefits at your full retirement age, you will receive 100 percent of your spouse’s benefit or, if your spouse died before collecting benefits, 100 percent of what your spouse’s benefit would have been at full retirement age. Unlike with retirement benefits, delaying survivor’s benefits longer than your full retirement age will not increase the benefit. If you delay taking retirement benefits past your full retirement age, depending on when you were born your benefit will increase by 6 to 8 percent for every year that you delay up to age 70, in addition to any cost of living increases.

You cannot take both retirement benefits and survivor’s benefits at the same time. When deciding which one to take, you need to compare the two benefits to see which is higher. In some cases, the decision is easy—one benefit is clearly much higher than the other. In other situations, the decision can be a little more complicated and you may want to take your survivor’s benefit before switching to your retirement benefit.

To determine the best strategy, you will need to look at your retirement benefit at your full retirement age as well as at age 70 and compare that to your survivor’s benefit. If your retirement benefit at age 70 will be larger than your survivor’s benefit, it may make sense to claim your survivor’s benefit at your full retirement age. You can then let your retirement benefit continue to grow and switch to the retirement benefit at age 70.

Example: A widow has the option of taking full retirement benefits of $2,000/month or survivor’s benefits of $2,100/month. She can take the survivor’s benefits and let her retirement benefits continue to grow. When she reaches age 70, her retirement benefit will be approximately $2,480/month, and she can switch to retirement benefits. Depending on the widow’s life expectancy, this strategy may make sense even if the survivor’s benefit is smaller than the retirement benefit to begin with.

Keep in mind that divorced spouses are also entitled to survivor’s benefits if they were married for at least 10 years. If you remarry before age 60, you are not entitled to survivor’s benefits, but remarriage after age 60 does not affect benefits. In the case of remarriage, you may need to factor in the new spouse’s spousal benefit when figuring out the best way to maximize benefits.

For more information about when to take Social Security benefits, click here.

For more information about Social Security benefits for spouses, click here.

Tax and other phone scams

The IRS just issued a bulletin warning about tax time phone scams. https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-be-vigilant-against-phone-scams-irs-be-vigilant-against-phone-scams-annual-dirty-dozen-list-continues

The elderly are often the targets of tax and other scams. I hear of these scams often through my clients and their families. One simple way to avoid these scams is to not answer the phone. The older generation grew up in a time when this was not a threat. Answering the phone is a habit and sometimes we feel rude if we don’t answer or hang up. However, that is what you need to do if the caller is not someone you know. Just hang up!

Another way to limit exposure to this problem is to not give out your phone number to everyone who asks for it. It is common for retail stores to ask this and for online orders but you should not give this out. Companies set up their computer systems to require a phone number and the employees are trained to ask for it. I do not give it out and find that they can still continue with the transaction. Companies also sell their customer lists with your phone number and other personal information. Do not give this personal information out. I know some people who give out a false phone number in these situations. I am not advising that but maybe it is easier than going through the process of refusing to give one out. You could also put your phone number on the do not call list although I am not sure if this will stop all the robocalls.

Talk to your parents or other older members of your family to make sure they understand the above.

Report Ranks States on Nursing Home Quality and Shows Families’ Conflicted Views

A new report that combines nursing home quality data with a survey of family members ranks the best and worst states for care and paints a picture of how Americans view nursing homes.

The website Care.com analyzed Medicare’s nursing home ratings to identify the states with the best and worst overall nursing home quality ratings. Using Medicare’s five-star nursing home rating system, Care.com found that Hawaii nursing homes had the highest overall average ratings (3.93), followed by the District of Columbia (3.89), Florida (3.75), and New Jersey (3.75).  The state with the lowest average rating was Texas (2.68), followed by Oklahoma (2.76), Louisiana (2.80), and Kentucky (2.98).

Care.com also surveyed 978 people who have family members in a nursing home to determine their impressions about nursing homes. The surveyors found that the family members visited their loved ones in a nursing home an average six times a month, and more than half of those surveyed felt that they did not visit enough. Those who thought they visited enough visited an average of nine times a month. In addition, a little over half felt somewhat to extremely guilty about their loved one being in a nursing home, while slightly less than one-quarter (23 percent) did not feel guilty at all. If the tables were turned, nearly half of the respondents said they would not want their families to send them to a nursing home.

While the survey indicates that the decision to admit a loved one to a nursing home was difficult, a majority (71.3 percent) of respondents felt satisfied with the care their loved ones were receiving. Only 18.1 percent said they were dissatisfied and about 10 percent were neutral. A little over half said that they would like to provide care at home if they could. The most common special request made on behalf of a loved one in a nursing home is for special food. Other common requests include extra attention and environmental accommodations (e.g., room temperature).

To read the full results of the survey, click here.

Balance billing of medical bills

An article from one of the leading healthcare websites discusses the problem of balance billing by hospitals. https://khn.org/news/taking-surprise-medical-bills-to-court/ A balance bill is the amount from the hospital that you are expected to pay out of your pocket after the insurance company has made their payment. This usually only arises when there has been a bill that is not covered, within the policy deductible, co-insurance or out-of-network. Coverage under a policy that is in-network is usually required to be accepted as payment in full by the hospital. The problem is that for these balance bills the hospital uses their list price which is much higher than the contract or allowable price agreed to for in-network providers. The in-network provider must accept this amount.

Under the law of contracts, two parties must reach an agreement or mutual assent on the terms of the contract. For example, you go to get a haircut and the prices are shown or at least told to you prior to your haircut. You don’t just sit down and then they tell you the charge after you are done. Hospital bills should be no different. If there is no prior disclosure or agreement to the charges (e.g., in an emergency), then there is no binding contract or liability to pay an unknown amount. If medical services were provided, there is liability to pay a reasonable amount under the theory of quantum meruit. How do you determine what is a reasonable amount? This issue has been presented in court and at least two courts have ordered hospitals to accept the lower in-network price.

The Kaiser article recommends that if you have this problem you should attempt to negotiate a reduced amount. There are websites that have information on average costs for various medical procedures were you can find proof of a reasonable charge. https://www.healthcarebluebook.com/ui/consumerfront and https://www.fairhealthconsumer.org/

I also recommend that you refer to the Kaiser health site for any information on healthcare or medical insurance. This website is a great resource with lots of information.
https://www.kff.org/

Ohio Medicaid Miller Trust developments

In Montgomery Co. Ohio the local caseworkers are starting to give more scrutiny to review of Qualified Income Trusts (aka Miller Trusts) when for the annual Medicaid eligibility review. For more information on these trusts see http://www.michaelmillonig.com/new-developments/

Some are demanding copies of all statements for the last year to determine compliance with the transfer to the trust each month. My experience is that many clients are sloppy about getting this done each month. In general, it is a two step process each month: a) transfer all income received in the Medicaid recipient’s personal account to the QIT trust bank account; b) pay this same amount (i.e. patient liability) to the nursing home. If you don’t do this, Medicaid eligibility could be terminated.

Rebirth of the Federal Estate Tax

Recent statements from Democratic politicians have indicated the possible rebirth of the federal estate tax. We are currently in a very good environment for estate planning since the federal estate tax exemption is $11,400,000 (2019). The Ohio estate tax was repealed effective for persons passing away after 2012.

Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren have all called for lowering the estate tax exemption. Elizabeth Warren has even proposed an annual wealth tax on estates during lifetime. See https://www.vox.com/2019/2/4/18210370/warren-wealth-tax-poll
https://www.foxbusiness.com/politics/bernie-sanders-to-propose-significant-wealth-tax-expansion
https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/10/cory-booker-terrible-tax-proposal/

This rhetoric is probably not sufficient to motivate most of us to engage in any type of substantial estate tax planning to reduce estate taxes. It’s probably too early for that. However, inherent in the nature of any type of planning is that you must plan ahead prior to the occurrence of the event or change in the law. If you wait too long, once a change has occurred it may be too late too engage in some beneficial estate planning. We’ll have to keep an eye on Congress and the next election to see what will happen concerning estate tax developments.

Avoiding Will Contests (and trusts too)

If an estate plan omits one of the children or other next of kin who would normally inherit, there is an incentive and possibility they may file a Will contest action or other litigation. Ohio law does require an official notice of the filing of the Will in Probate Court to all of the next of kin even if they are not named in the Will as a beneficiary. A Will contest or other litigation will delay the probate of the estate for years, incur large bills for attorney fees and court costs, and create acrimony among the family. There are legal procedures that can be taken to avoid these possible problems and assure that the intention expressed in the Will is carried out.

One of the planning options that is provided under Ohio law is to file for a Judicial Declaration of the Validity of your Will by the Probate Court. Most states do not have this type of law. This involves filing a petition in court, a notice sent to all the legal next of kin and appearance at a court hearing. At the hearing, the person who signed the will testifies before the judge who can then declare the will to be valid. The effect of this court decree is that all the persons named in the will and others not named who were notified of the court action are legally prohibited from contesting the will. The disadvantage of this option is that it does incur some additional legal fees and you have to notify the persons who will not be inheriting under the will. However, the result is well worth avoiding expensive and protracted litigation in the estate.

A new development in this area is that a similar Ohio law has been enacted, effective in March of 2019, to provide for the same judicial procedure for a trust. Many persons use trusts to avoid probate and for many other estate planning objectives. For a fuller discussion of trusts see  http://www.michaelmillonig.com/practice-areas/trusts/

Elder Law Anniversary

I just finished celebrating my 20th year of certification as an elder law specialist by the National Elder Law Foundation. The time has gone by quickly. It seems like just yesterday that I joined National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys in 1991. My membership in NAELA came to define my practice and mission everyday for my clients. If you ever need a referral to an elder law attorney anywhere in the United States, I suggest you search for an attorney at the National Elder Law Foundation website. This website will list all the elder law attorneys who are certified specialists in elder law. http://www.nelf.org/