Thoughts

I Was a Guest Blogger for Clutter Troops!

I am honored to have been asked to be a guest blogger for Clutter Troops Professional Organizers.

The blog post is one I’ve posted before but frankly, it is worth reading again. In this post, I wrote about cleaning out my father’s own home after his death and the sheer amount of “stuff” that had to be removed after years of accumulation.

Please look at the Clutter Troops website for more information about professional organizing and decluttering. In a nutshell, Clutter Troops help you get organized in your home or business and stay that way. In addition, they help people who are downsizing, as well as what I would call “outsizing” — getting a house ready for sale due to a move to a nursing or assisted living facility, or due to a death of the occupant.

 

New Social Security Phone Scam

There’s a new phone scam targeting seniors and it focuses on Social Security. Scammers have long been calling about our alleged IRS deficiencies. Now they are calling to inform you that you are entitled to a cost of living increase. The scammer then asks you to update your personal information, including your name, date of birth and Social Security Number.

Remember — the SSA NEVER calls to update personal information.

The real SSA already has this information so they don’t need to confirm it with you!!!

Hang up immediately if you receive such a call.

If you receive a suspicious call, call 800-269-0271 to report the call to the Office of the Inspector General, or report it online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report.

The SSA also has a toll-free customer service number (800-772-1213) for any questions you may have. It is operated Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-325-0778.

Nursing Homes Scrutinized Still Have Poor Care

I am republishing an article from Kaiser Health News which focuses on the problems with many nursing homes. This is not meant to vilify all nursing facilities. It is just meant to put a light on some of the issues that we face as our population ages and needs more institutional care. At the risk of offending my readers that are generally “less government” oriented, I would like to shine a light on why we need oversight and assistance from the government to prevent these things from happening. My own mother was a federally certified inspector of nursing facilities and assisted living facilities. The stories do not surprise me, however, I fear that we are going to decrease government oversight to our peril.

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Photo is from the article (Cheryl Powers fixes the hair of her mother, Elaine Fisher, at the Rehabilitation Center of Bakersfield in Bakersfield, Calif., where Fisher moved after problems at a previous home. She fractured a hip after slipping from a wheelchair. (Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times))

 

Virginia’s New Elective Share Law

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January 1, 2017, Virginia Code § 64.2-308.1, et seq. changed. This law concerns the surviving spouse’s elective share of his or her deceased spouse’s estate.

Under the prior law, a spouse who died either intestate or who didn’t leave his or her spouse property (disinheritance), had a right to claim an elective share of the deceased spouse’s property. If a spouse had children from another relationship this often caused a great deal of anguish because the surviving spouse was entitled to only 1/3 of his or her spouse’s estate while the children (including adult children) received the remainder.

Under the new law however, a surviving spouse has a right to claim a percentage of 1/2 of the value of the marital property included in the augmented estate.  This includes: 1. The decedent’s net probate estate, 2. The decedent’s non-probate transfers to others, 3. The decedent’s non-probate transfers to the surviving spouse, and 4. The surviving spouse’s property and non-probate transfers to others.  This means that even the surviving spouse’s property is included in the calculation of the augmented estate. So the law essentially now includes ALL the property of the marriage, not just that property in the probate estate. This now includes property from revocable trusts and property by transfer on death and beneficiary-driven assets.

The statute also provides that while the surviving spouse can claim up to 50% of the augmented estate, it is now dependent upon how long the couple were married. No longer can a spouse of 3 months claim 1/3 of the deceased spouse’s estate. According to the statute, the value of the augmented estate is determined by a multiplier based upon how long the couple was married. For example, if the couple was married for less than 1 year, the multiplier is 3%. If they were married 9 years but less than 10 years, the multiplier is 54%. If the couple was married for more than 15 years, the multiplier is 100%. Then the surviving spouse is entitled to 50% of that figure.

Additionally, even if the principal family residence is involved in the augmented estate, the surviving spouse cannot be kicked out by the deceased spouse’s children while any action is being taken to determine what the elective share is and how to pay it. The surviving spouse may occupy and enjoy the residence without charge for rent, repairs, taxes or insurance. If the surviving spouse is deprived of possession, he or she may file a complaint with the court for unlawful entry or detainer and is entitled to recover possession and damages for the period of time he or she was deprived.

So what does this mean? It means that it is more important than ever to make sure you have your estate plan in order. Don’t assume that you are taken care of and that your spouse is taken care of. Planning is beyond important in this day and age of second and third marriages with children from prior marriages. I have personally seen how this negatively impacted long-term spouses. I have also seen how short-term marriages negatively impacted  inheritance by children. It leads to hurt feelings and lawsuits. A little planning can go a long way in curbing a negative outcome.

 

 

Repeal of Obamacare, Medicare and the “Donut Hole”

Approximately 57 million senior citizens and disabled Americans are currently enrolled in Medicare. I remind people that Medicare is health insurance for seniors and disabled Americans (as opposed to Medicaid, which is for a different purpose).

There is a great deal of talk that repeal of Obamacare will occur within the first 100 days of the incoming administration. This will have tremendous impact on Medicare.

It is estimated that if Obamacare is totally repealed and nothing is done to replace it, seniors will face higher premiums and deductibles for their Medicare Part B. This may impact those seniors on low and fixed incomes.

In addition, we will see the infamous “donut hole” in prescription drug coverage return. The donut hole is that time period under Medicare Part D in which there is a gap in coverage. During that gap, a senior is responsible for all of his or her prescription drug coverage. Under Obamacare, that “hole” or gap, has been closing.

Before 2010, seniors had to pay the full cost of their prescriptions while in the donut hole but under Obamacare, those costs were reduced so that in 2016, they only had to pay 45% of the cost of name brand drugs and 58% for generics while in the donut hole. In 2017, these copays were set to be 40% and 51% respectively.

According to The Commonwealth Fund, since  2010, 8 million seniors saved over $11.5 billion on prescription drugs due to gradual closing of the donut hole. The effect of the donut hole “growing” again due to the repeal of Obamacare will impact seniors that take a lot of medication and/or expensive medication. Cancer drugs for example are very expensive.

I encourage you to study all you can about how total repeal of Obamacare will affect you or your loved ones and take the appropriate steps to protect yourself or them.

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Suzan Joins ShenArts Board

I am pleased and honored to have been asked to join the ShenArts Board of Directors (Shenandoah Arts Council). I look forward to working with the staff and board members to continue the mission of  supporting the arts through programming, instruction, and exhibition and expanding arts awareness in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. See the Shen Arts website for more information about the great work that ShenArts does.

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End-of-Life Issue in Me Before You

I just finished reading JoJo Moyes’ bestselling novel Me Before You, which was also recently made into a movie. I won’t give the plot away so in a nutshell, it is about a young man who becomes a quadriplegic, and the young woman that is hired as a caretaker for him. The book delves into the question about whether or not someone like the main character (“Will”) can, with the aid of a physician, end his or her own life when they have a terminal condition or, in the case of Will, cannot live life without constant pain, 24-hour care, and in the same manner in which he lived before. Will was a powerful businessman, as well as a world traveler, bit of a daredevil (skydiving, mountain climbing), and ladies’ man, and was very unhappy in his life as it had become. The book was well done in my opinion and it does raise the awareness of this end-of-life issue that is brewing in this country.

What do you think?

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Decluttering: Cleaning Out Your Parent’s Home

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Yes, I am an estate planning lawyer, but with this post I can absolutely tell you from my personal experience and the very bottom of my heart, if you love your children, please do not leave them with 20, 30, 40, 50+ years of “stuff” you have accumulated.

Last week, I traveled to Texas to begin the process of cleaning out my dad’s home. He had lived there for 20 years. For the last 8-1/2 years he lived there by himself, my stepmom having died in January of 2008. When they moved in 20 years ago, they brought every home they ever lived in with them.

In today’s day of easy come and easy go, new car every 3 years, new clothes every season, new TV just because you can even though the old one is in perfect working order, and in which everyone wants a new kitchen with stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops, my dad and stepmom were outliers. Both were Depression babies and saved everything.

Unfortunately, that also meant that cleaning up after Dad’s death was quite an ordeal.

I cleaned up not less than 6 file drawers and 6 more file boxes of papers. These papers included some things I was grateful for having for tax purposes (like information about the house and the improvements to it) but I also cursed every receipt I found that was more than 3 years old. There were many. Some were 10 years old. I even found one from a pharmacy that supplied my brother’s asthma medication. He was 4 at the time. He’s now 51. I’m here to tell you that you do not need to keep 10 years’ worth of paid electric bills.

My dad saved lots of glass jars, an entire cabinet of jelly and spaghetti sauce jars. I must have gotten that habit from him. This weekend my plane had barely touched down and I was already throwing things like that away.

We threw away threadbare towels, which they kept despite having purchased new towels to replace them.

All tolled, we threw away no less than 25 lawn-sized bags of trash. That did not include items being given to children or grandchildren or items being donated to charities he designated.

I’m not telling you this so as to air dirty laundry. Like I said, I collect “stuff” also. I also hear this from my clients who are tasked with this daunting job when mom or dad (or uncle or cousin) pass away. What I’m saying is that all those organizational gurus who say if you bring something in to your home, let something else go, are absolutely right. If you can’t throw it away or give it to charity, maybe give it to your children or grandchildren now instead of waiting until sometime later. I will always remember when my grandma gave me some of her possessions while she was alive. Her viewpoint was that instead of saving an item for me when she died, she’d get to watch me enjoy it. It gave her pleasure to see me using those items. It gave me pleasure to use them and to see her smile.

Please, I beg you, if you love your children, declutter while you can. If you haven’t used something in 15 years, get rid of it. Save your children from having to cull through all of those items, all of that “stuff”.  I can attest that it is not only time consuming, it is emotionally draining. Trust me, you will be doing your children a great service.

 

So Your Mom Has Moved In With You Part 2

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After mom or dad moves in with you, you have to consider many things. One thing I talk a lot about (okay, maybe I even harp on it) is making sure that you have a power of attorney for finances and another one for medical care.

Let’s be honest about this first, you will have to assess your mom’s ability to even sign these documents. If mom has moved in with you and is capable of handling her own affairs, please run to your lawyer’s office to get these documents completed. Do not stop along the way for a nail appointment, take a vacation, or go to choir practice. I’m not being snide here. I often get phone calls asking for the first available appointment and when dates and times are offered, none of them are good enough because there’s that nail appointment or a soccer game that conflicts. That’s not a joke; those are real excuses, and this is no joking matter.

If your parent is mentally capable of executing these documents get them done as soon as humanly possible. I receive heartbreaking calls from family members on a regular basis when mom or dad had strokes or the dementia has gotten really bad and the parent is not able to complete the documents. This is not the time to wait or think about it. Just do it and do it quickly.

Also, I would caution you not to use this time to play out sibling rivalries and wrest the power from your sister or brother by bringing Mom to a lawyer to change her perfectly good documents that name your sibling instead of you. You are asking for a lawsuit and possibly a restraining order.

I would also caution about using a lawyer and not attempting to do it yourself. I know. I know. This sounds like the lawyer just attempting to get money from you. Granted online companies are competitors but I have to tell you straight — I have seen some really horrible online documents. More than that, I have seen non-lawyers who did their own documents using online forms that really don’t understand what they are doing and botch the document so badly that it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. This is one time that you can’t afford to find out that the document you raced to get Mom to sign isn’t going to do the job. Mom being this ill is already a strain on you and your family, don’t make it a total disaster.

My next blog post will be an excerpt from my textbook about doing documents on your own or through an online company.

 

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