This April, members of the Special Needs Alliance (SNA) traveled to Washington D.C. for their annual spring meeting and a “Day on the Hill.” During their visit to Capitol Hill, SNA members briefed their local members in the Congress and Senate on issues regarding public policy, advocacy and special needs trusts (SNTs).
Littman Krooks attorney and SNA member Amy C. O’Hara, Esq., spoke with aides of Rep. Eliot Engel (NY) and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (NY) to discuss and act on what appears to be a simple drafting error in the writing of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993.
The drafting error in this bill makes the presumption that that an individual who is disabled lacks the requisite mental capacity to create his or her own first party SNT. The proposed change to 42 USC § 1396p (d)(4)(A) would allow an individual with disabilities, who has the requisite mental capacity, to create a special needs trust by him or herself without petitioning the court to authorize the trust, thereby saving the individual a significant amount of time and money in attorneys’ fees.
Ms. O’Hara also advocated in support of The Disabled Military Child Protection Act (H.R. 4329 of the 112th Congress). This bill, if passed, would ensure that a dependent child who is disabled would continue to qualify for certain government benefits (i.e. Survivor Benefit Plan) by transferring payments to a special needs trust (instead of leaving the benefit directly to the child). Passing this piece of legislature would allow military families to plan for the future of their special needs child and to protect his or her eligibility for means-tested government programs.
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Amy C. O’Hara is an attorney with the law firm of Littman Krooks LLP where she practices in the areas of estate planning and administration, trust administration, guardianships, special needs planning, elder law, and veterans’ benefits. She lectures frequently to advocacy organizations and families on the importance of proper planning for families of children with special needs. To read more about Amy, click here.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) allows recipients of Social Security benefits to check their benefits information online, change their information for direct deposit, and accomplish other tasks. The online accounts, called “my Social Security,” are available at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.
To create an account, you must be at least 18 years of age, and have a Social Security number, a U.S. mailing address and a valid email address. The process of creating an account is straightforward and involves submitting personal information and choosing a username and password.
Once you have an online account, you can access your Social Security statement. Your statement estimates what your Social Security benefits would be if you retired at age 62, age 67 or age 70. It also shows your estimated benefits if you were to become disabled and your survivors’ benefits in the event of your death. These statements used to be sent to workers by mail each year, but they are now available only through online accounts. In addition to viewing their estimated benefits, online users can also change their contact information or direct deposit information and get their benefit verification letter, which is sometimes needed as proof of income for various reasons.
The SSA estimates that online information has been accessed 5.3 million times since the online statements became available one year ago.
For more information about our estate planning services, visit www.littmankrooks.com.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides low-income Americans with financial assistance to buy groceries, and many older Americans rely on it. However, only about a third of eligible seniors participate in the program, perhaps from a mistaken understanding of who is eligible and how much assistance is available. Seniors need to know about SNAP’s deductions for medical expenses.
SNAP makes sense for many New York seniors, especially because the state allows individuals to have savings and still qualify for benefits. A household with an older adult or a disabled person must have a net income of 100 percent or less of the federal poverty level. In 2013, that is $11,172 for a single person. However, net income is gross income minus all allowable deductions. There is a standard deduction for each household, plus deductions for housing, utilities and medical costs. Seniors can often benefit greatly from the medical deduction.
Fifty-five percent seniors that are eligible for SNAP could also take the medical deduction, but only about 14 percent do. The medical deduction is for households with a person 60 years of age or older or a person with a disability. Any medical expenses above $35 per month may be deducted, as long as they were not covered by insurance or paid by someone else. There is no cap on the deduction. Deductions may include medical or dental care, hospitalization or nursing home care, health insurance costs, medical devices, home health care and prescription medicine.
SNAP benefits are provided with an electronic benefits card similar to an ATM or debit card. To apply for SNAP benefits in New York, visit https://mybenefits.ny.gov.
Visit our website at www.littmankrooks.com. For more information about our elder law services, visit www.elderlawnewyork.com.
More women tend to need long-term care coverage, and they will be paying more for it.
Prices for long-term care insurance will soon reflect the reality that women live longer and file more claims than men. That change could mean significant upheaval in an already confusing and unpredictable market—and for some women who have been on the fence about buying such coverage, it creates a new decision-making deadline.
Gender-based long-term care policies are beginning to be offered to women who apply for individual coverage. Genworth, one such company offering the gender-based policies, may be reacting to the longer life expectancies of women compared to men.
While women have not been charged more for the same long-term care polices as their male counterparts, they typically live longer than men. Women are an estimated 60 percent of long-term care insurance policyholders, and are between 70 percent and 80 percent of the claimants. Women both live longer than men and typically file larger long-term care claims than men.
The insurer Genworth’s move to raise long-term care prices will affect single and married women. While couples often could get a lower combined rate on their care coverage, marital status may no longer allow a cost break. The pricing approach varies by insurance carrier. Couples may get a discount from about 25 percent to 40 percent less than individual policies. Forty-seven percent of women age 55 and older are single either because they are divorced, separated, never married or widowed. If a woman who is married applies individually, she would also pay the increase.
Some insurance companies may begin charging a married woman more for her long-term care policy if she outlives her spouse. The woman’s premium may be something like 10 percent higher than the current rate, while her husband’s might be 10 percent less than the current rate; they’d pay the same as before, but the additional cost would be covered by the individual most likely to need longer care. But if the woman does outlive the man, she’d lose his lower cost and continue to pay her higher rate.
There are general premium price hikes happening throughout the insurance policy field. Over the past five years, premiums have risen as much as 50 percent as the industry has tried to correct miscalculations made before the most recent recession.
For more information, visit www.littmankrooks.com.
The NAEPC Education Foundation and the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC) are promoting April 2013 as National Financial Literacy Month.
The goal of the awareness campaign is to help the American public learn how to keep their financial and estate plans up to date. Financial Literacy Month was officially designated by a Congressional proclamation. NAEPC is joining with financial professionals, nonprofit organizations and financial services organizations to promote financial literacy. To learn more about the NAEPC Education Foundation and their improving financial awareness campaigns, please visit: http://www.estateplanninganswers.org/national-financial-awareness-campaigns/.
The organizations believe increased awareness is necessary, as evidenced by the following:
- An estimated 120 million Americans lack a proper estate plan, making estate planning a severely overlooked area of financial management.
- Most Americans over 65 depend totally on Social Security, but with increased knowledge and planning, seniors could be more secure.
- Estate planning is important for everyone, not just wealthy people. Issues such as managing assets and bill payments in the event of a disability or disease can be handled carefully with advance planning.
- Most Americans are unable to adequately plan for retirement. With proper knowledge and planning, that can change.
If you have delayed creating or updating your estate plan, now is the time to take action. You will need to gather and organize your financial information, decide on your personal financial goals, and seek out an estate planning attorney to develop your estate plan. An estate plan should be updated at least every three years or whenever there is a change in your situation such as marriage, divorce, births or deaths, or a substantial change in the size of your estate.
For more information about our estate planning services, visit www.littmankrooks.com.
Women coming home from military service are joining the ranks of the homeless in the U.S.
The male former service members who become homeless after returning to the States largely do so when battling mental illness and/or substance abuse issues. Female vets come home with those issues as well as a tougher time finding gainful employment and housing. Even more often, these women come home with issues stemming from military sexual trauma, or MST, which can cause or exacerbate post-traumatic stress disorder.
It is estimated that there were more than 140,000 homeless veterans in the U.S. as of 2011, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That number is expected to rise as more troops come home this year. Of that 140,000, almost 10 percent are women, an increase from 7.9 percent as of 2009. Women service members now comprise 18 percent of the Army National Guard and the Reserves, and 14 percent of active-duty forces.
Female vets face issues that can make them particularly vulnerable while trying to assimilate into civilian life. Dr. Donna L. Washington, of the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center and professor of medicine at UCLA, calls what these women face a “web of vulnerability” due to the military sexual trauma, the lack of affordable family housing and the low re-employment rates. Female vets are more likely than their male counterparts to be single parents, but more than 60 percent of the transitional housing programs which receive Department of Veterans Affairs grants either do not accept children, or have restrictions on the number of children accepted and their ages.
A recent study led by Dr. Washington found that approximately 53 percent of homeless female veterans reported that they had experienced military sexual trauma, and a significant number of women who joined the military did so in part to escape troubled family environments or abuse.
The White House has pledged to end homelessness for vets by 2015, and is working on permanent voucher programs. Congress has also allocated $300 million to work on homelessness prevention by offering short-term emergency money to vets so they can make a housing down payment and pay utility bills. And new legislation was recently introduced to reimburse vets for child care while in transitional housing.
Helping Families Plan for Their Special Needs Child
Please join us for an informative webinar designed for parents and grandparents of children with special needs. Sheryl and Amy, two prominent Special Needs Planning attorneys, will discuss a variety of topics including:
- why planning for the future is necessary
- when to plan
- planning tools available
- the role of public benefits
Registration is required for this webinar. If you want to attend, please click here (http://ow.ly/jFqc1) and complete the registration form. You will then receive an email with instructions for logging into the webinar on April 25.
A report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has confirmed that disabled veterans continue to face unreasonable delays in receiving benefits. According to the report, the average time to process a veteran’s disability claim is 272 days, an increase of 40 percent since 2011.
Every day approximately 53 veterans die while waiting for their benefits. The VA has a backlog of about 900,000 claims. Eric Shinseki, the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs, has said that the claims system will be improved significantly by 2015.
Although the VA has acknowledged that the average wait time is 272 days, the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) found that the wait can be two months longer for veterans filing their first claim for benefits, especially in major cities. According to VA internal data obtained by CIR, the wait time for first-time claimants is between 316 and 327 days. First-time claimants in New York City wait 642 days. In Los Angeles the wait is 619 days and in Chicago it is 542 days.
The number of veterans who wait longer than one year for benefits has increased from 11,000 in 2009 to 245,000 by the end of 2012.
The VA says that its goal is to resolve nearly all claims within a four month period, by the year 2015. However, the department projects that the number of veterans waiting for benefits will continue to grow in 2013, reaching more than one million.
For more information about our legal services for veterans, visit www.littmankrooks.com.
Congress has renewed a charitable rollover provision for individual retirement accounts (IRAs) that applies to people age 70-and-a-half and older. The provision had expired and has now been renewed through the end of 2013. The provision has several tax benefits.
IRA owners who meet the minimum age requirement can donate up to $100,000 directly from their retirement account to charities such as churches, schools and other nonprofit organizations – although not most private foundations.
The gift cannot be claimed as a charitable deduction on the IRA owner’s tax return, but there are other benefits. The donation does not count as taxable income, but does count as part of an IRA owner’s required annual withdrawal. The donation does not raise adjusted gross income, so it will not affect Social Security benefits or Medicare premiums. Eligibility for several other taxes and tax benefits are determined by adjusted gross income, such as a new phasing out of itemized deductions and personal exemptions, a new tax on investment income, and other tax credits and deductions.
Making donations from an IRA can be a good idea if you are concerned about minimizing adjusted gross income, if you do not itemize deductions, or if you do not have many liquid assets other than your IRA. You can best decide whether such a donation is the right move for you by consulting with your estate planning attorney or tax professional.
For more information about our estate planning services, visit www.littmankrooks.com.
New York seniors are getting a prescription price break.
According to the AARP, almost 300,000 New York seniors enrolled under the state’s Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program are slated to receive co-payment assistance this year. Co-payment assistance, canceled due to budget constraints, was restored in the state’s budget as of January 1, 2013, though funding past March 31, 2013 has yet to be determined.
The AARP New York State Manager of Government Affairs, David McNally, stated that EPIC is one of New York’s most essential programs for seniors, and he applauds the reestablishment of funds to help seniors afford their much-needed medication.
EPIC reports that the average enrollee using their co-payment assistance is female, 78 years old, taking four prescription medications. As of January 1, for any senior eligible for EPIC, co-payments will return to their previous cost of no more than $20 per prescription. Without co-payment assistance, many seniors must pick and choose which medications they can afford to have filled, skipping the more expensive medications, often to the detriment of their health. The AARP works to help all seniors get the medication they need; EPIC’s previous budget constraints meant that financial help only kicked in when a senior had reached Medicare Part D’s coverage gap, commonly known as the “doughnut hole.”
Medicare’s part D coverage gap kicks in for seniors when their total retail drug costs reach between $1,800 and $2,970 (the ceiling amount differs from plan to plan) — the total retail cost of the medications, not the total amount paid by the patient. When a patient reaches the end of their initial coverage limit, they remain in the “doughnut hole” until their out-of-pocket expenses exceed $4,750, not including the portion of their prescription expenses paid by their insurance carrier or monthly Medicare Part D plan premiums.
Eligibility requirements for EPIC include being of age 65 or older, New York State residency, an annual income below $35,000 if single or $50,000 if married, and enrollment in or eligibility for Medicare Part D plan (no exceptions), without full Medicaid benefits.
For more information, visit our website at www.littmankrooks.com.