Julianne Moore’s Oscar Sustains Awareness for Dementia Care

Alzheimer’s disease is an unlikely topic for Oscar buzz, but it nevertheless dominated red-carpet chatter this year, as Julianne Moore was an early favorite to win the Best Actress award for Still Alice.

Cover of Still Alice

Cover of Still Alice

Alice is a devastatingly affecting film about a woman diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Moore was universally praised for her unshakeable performance as a brave soul facing a terrifying prognosis.

New research shows that dementia is the #1 fear in the world today. It’s no wonder that Moore’s performance resonated. Sure enough, she took home the gold. And when she accepted the award, she seized the opportunity to remind the world of just how real the disease is.

As CNN reports, Alice is an effective tool in raising awareness about the disease, which could help to spur new efforts in prevention and treatment. There’s currently no cure.

But CNN points out that the film is equally important for shining the spotlight on courageous caregivers. Unpaid family members provide the overwhelming majority of long-term care for dementia patients in the United States. In the awards race, as in real life, they go unsung.

Fortunately, the Academy Award will drive a far larger number of people to watch the movie, giving dementia greater consideration along the way. That’s a good thing. Films like these are essential for keeping the conversation on dementia alive. Kudos to the Academy for recognizing that.

Posted in Alzheimer's, Caregivers, Dementia, Family | Leave a comment

Four Reasons People Put Off Estate Planning

“Have you thought about dying lately?”

That’s the question The Huffington Post asks in a new article about delays in estate planning. Most people’s answer, they guess, is no. After all, it isn’t exactly a pleasant thought on which to meditate. But then someone passes away, and it reminds us how unexpectedly death can come, as was the case for HuffPo’s David A. Dedman.

He walks through four reasons that people often delay in executing an estate plan. As you might have guessed, they aren’t very good reasons. We’ll share them below and tell you, in turn, why they don’t make much sense:

  • Too busy. Dedman calls this one out for what it is: an excuse. The truth is that everybody is busy, but important things demand our attention nonetheless. This is one of them. You need an estate plan before it’s too late — and you never know when it will be.
  • Out of sight, out of mind. It’s simply easier to avoid thinking about estate planning and/or death. But just because something isn’t fun doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. You need an estate plan whether you want to think about it or not. Dedman says it’s better to do it while you’re healthy. We agree.
  • The “I’m not rich” rationale. A lot of people think they don’t have an estate to plan for, but that’s almost never true. Even your most basic assets — house, car, bank account, music collection, etc. — are valuable to the people you’ll leave behind. Anyone can benefit from an estate plan, and it’s actually better to devise one before your estate grows more complex later in life.
  • It’s complicated. Well this one’s true. Estate planning is That’s where we come in. An experienced New Jersey estate planning attorney can handle all the headache for you. It’s what we’re here for.

Ready to bid adieu to the old procrastination habit? Give us a call! We’ll get you going in no time. Contact Medina Law Group today.

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Dancing and Sudoku: Could Getting Old Really Be That Simple?

With or without dementia, old age is accompanied by a decline in memory and cognitive function. That’s been an unassailable fact since the dawn of time. But it might not be fact anymore.

A growing body of research demonstrates that while mental decline may not be entirely preventable, it is increasingly possible to substantially stave it off. Consider, for example, a new study reported in The Guardian a few weeks ago.

Finnish researchers tested more than a thousand people between ages 60 and 77 over the course of two years. Half lived their lives as usual, while the other half went through a kind of lighthearted “elderly boot camp.” They worked out in the gym, they did aerobics, they danced, they ate fish, they played Sudoku, etc.

The results were staggering. Across the board, their brains functioned at a significantly higher rate than those in the control group. They scored 25% higher in mental tests, 85% better in executive function (the brain’s ability to regulate thought), and a whopping 150% higher in mental processing speed.

Next, the study will continue for another seven years. This time, the researchers are hoping to show that the same kind of discipline could prevent or at least limit Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

For anyone who’s played a game of Sudoku, danced to a catchy beat, or savored a delicious seafood meal, that doesn’t sound like such a bad way to live. Hopefully, the research will ultimately show that having healthy fun is the best prescription for a long and sharp-minded life.

In the meantime, if you or a family member is already facing old age or dementia and would like some advice about preparing for the challenges ahead, please don’t hesitate to give our New Jersey elder law attorney office a call. We’re here for you.

Posted in Aging, Alzheimer's, Dementia, Seniors | Leave a comment

Batman Artist Turns to Crowdfunding for Health Care Costs

Batman’s faced plenty of tough foes in the course of his career, but there’s one nemesis still awaiting Bruce Wayne a few years down the road: long-term care costs.

Norm Breyfogle

A portrait Illustration of comics artist Norman Breyfogle by colleague Michael Netzer for his Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just ask Norm Breyfogle, a well-known comic book artist most famous for his work with “The Caped Crusader.” The New York Times recently recounted Breyfogle’s struggle to manage his health care budget after suffering an unexpected stroke. Not only were the costs staggering but he also lost his primary source of income, as his drawing hand had been rendered useless.

At just 54 years old, Breyfogle found himself in a nursing home, partly incapacitated, and facing months of physical therapy and a mountain of bills. Oh, and did we mention he didn’t have health insurance?

Of course, Bruce Wayne wouldn’t have it quite so hard. His billions of dollars and countless assets could kick in and save the day. But most people don’t have that kind of empire. What are they to do?

After years of coloring inside the lines, Breyfogle decided to think outside the box to solve his crisis. He turned to crowdfunding, a fast-rising solution to many people’s struggles.

Patients can post donation requests on popular crowdfunding websites, set a goal amount, and then collect donations from benevolent and oft-anonymous strangers. Breyfogle’s goal was $200,000. He collected $20,000 in the first day alone.

Of course, not everyone has Breyfogle’s fame or the spotlight of The New York Times. And as more people post requests on crowdfunding sites, there will be fewer donations to go around. But for now, at least, it’s a potentially effective alternative for people who find themselves in a bind.

Long-term care planning is another alternative, but it requires being proactive. The sooner you put a plan in place, the sooner your health care fund can start to grow. Long-term care planning is one of the services we offer at Medina Law Group.

Ideally, you’ll never need to depend on the kindness of strangers. But it’s nice to know that heroes can be found anywhere — even online.

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Why New Jersey’s “Death Tax” Could Soon Die

Compared to other places in the country, New Jersey’s estate tax is kind of a killer.

Jersey_stub

In fact, ours is one of only two states still assessing not only an estate tax on the deceased person’s assets but also an inheritance tax on some of the people who benefit from those assets. Meanwhile, most other states have eliminated the death tax altogether.

The Garden State has always had reputation for aggressive taxation on the dead and their loved ones. Even among those states that do still have their own estate tax, New Jersey offers the fewest number of exemptions.

New Jersey simply isn’t a prudent place to die (financially speaking, at least). But lawmakers are looking to change that.

USA Today reports that more than a half-dozen proposals are already on their way to the state legislature, and at least one of them has a decent chance of passing (though it may come tethered to a gas-tax hike). Financial planners across the state are celebrating that as a step in the right direction, and most New Jersey residents say they’re in favor too.

Of course, nothing’s set in stone yet, and until it is, you should make sure that your estate plan protects your family should you happen to pass away before there’s a meaningful change in the law.

And if the tax does change in the future — whether it’s merely minimized or altogether wiped out (there are proposals in place for both) — it will only open the door for increased tax savings opportunities.

In most other states, the estate tax is at most an afterthought for all but the wealthiest of families. Instead, estate plans have emerged as important mechanisms for asset protection and tax savings in other areas. That could soon be the case here in New Jersey too.

In the meantime, should you need assistance with estate planning in New Jersey, Medina Law Group can help. Give us a call to learn more about your options.

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Rutgers Launches a Hotline to Help Dementia Caregivers in New Jersey

Life as a caregiver is tough — especially if you aren’t being paid for it.

Studies show that the majority of America’s healthcare providers are gratuitous. That means they are uncompensated volunteers, usually family members, who assume the tremendous burden of elder care on their own.

Caring for any senior is challenging, but when the recipient suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia, the difficulty is almost incomprehensible for anyone who hasn’t experienced it.

Fortunately, MyCentralJersey.com reports that a new resource is here to lighten the load for gratuitous dementia caregivers in New Jersey.

Care2Caregivers is a brand-new helpline for people whose loved ones suffer from dementia. It’s operated by Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care and funded by the New Jersey Department of Human Services. The service just launched in August 2014 and has already helped thousands of people in The Garden State.

When you call Care2Caregivers, the person picking up the phone will have had professional experience in providing care for dementia patients in the past. They offer advice on managing behavior, locating resources, and overcoming challenges. Sometimes they simply lend an open ear or a message of reassurance — a welcome relief for the emotionally overwhelmed.

The calls are confidential and, if you wish, anonymous. They’ve proven very popular so far. Those interested can receive follow-up calls or even get information about local support groups.

It’s great to see an initiative unfold with the potential to make a real and meaningful difference in the lives of New Jersey’s dementia patients and their families. We know how hard care giving can be, so we hope you’ll make the most of this great new resource should you ever need it.

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Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts

Often clients come into my office asking what is the difference between a revocable and irrevocable trust. It seems simple – one is changeable and one is not, right? Well, not so fast. 

NewImage

Let’s start with the easy one — Revocable Trust. A revocable trust is precisely what it says it is – a trust that is revocable, changeable, amendable. You can create it, you can destroy it, you can change it, you can keep it the same until you die. One thing a revocable trust doesn’t do, ever, is protect assets. It will not protect assets from estate taxes or Medicaid spend down.  Even with that disadvantage, there are plenty of good uses for revocable trusts, such as:

  • Probate avoidance (especially useful if you have real property in two or more states)
  • Maximizing estate tax exemption use (helpful in New Jersey where the estate tax threshold is just $675,000)
  • Protecting your children’s inheritance from divorce or bankruptcy
  • Keeping assets in a bloodline (and away from in-laws, future spouses, or step-children)
  • Planning for beneficiaries with special needs

With a revocable trust, clients set them up with their own money and control them (as trustees) for their lives. Then they choose who is in charge after they both die (if married), and where the money and property go.  

So, if a revocable trust is a trust you can change whenever you want, it would follow, then, that an irrevocable trust is one that you cannot change…except that’s not the case. You see, in drafting an irrevocable trust I can reserve certain powers for the grantors (my clients) to allow them to make certain changes during their lifetime. What kind of changes do my clients want to make?

  • Changing Trustees – Clients may want to reserve the right to make changes to who is in charge of their irrevocable trust during their lifetime. While there are some limitations on who they can select to serve as replacements, generally clients are able to make changes to the trustees to continue to serve the goals the planning set out to achieve.
  • Changing Beneficiaries – Clients often want to hold onto the right to choose who gets their money after they die…right up until the time that they die. From inside an irrevocable trust, clients can gain flexibility over where assets go and how their beneficiaries get it.
  • Saving Money On Capital Gains – One of the most important assets we can help protect is the family home. One way to protect it is to transfer ownership into an irrevocable trust. However, using the wrong kind of irrevocable trust can cause hundreds of thousands of dollars of value to be subject to capital gains if clients decide later to sell that home. With the right kind of language in the trust, we can preserve our client’s choice to sell the home later in life and still receive the preferential tax treatment they had while the home was still in their name. 

There are many uses for irrevocable trusts, whether protecting assets against long-term care costs, perhaps saving on estate taxes, or shielding assets against liability. These irrevocable trusts do not use the same language and they are not interchangeable. Choosing between them, and the ways we can let clients change them in the future, is where engaging an attorney is essential.

As you can see, the difference between an irrevocable and revocable trust is not so clear-cut. Many times we can achieve a lot of the advantages of a revocable trust with the added benefits of asset protection from inside of an irrevocable trust. This kind of sophisticated planning is benefit our clients enjoy from our focus in this area of law.

Posted by Victor J. Medina

Medina Law Group, LLC

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Elder Financial Abuse Often Goes Unnoticed

If it can happen to Mickey Rooney, it can happen to anyone.mickeyrooney

Elder financial abuse is a real and growing epidemic in the United States, hard as that is to imagine. Unfortunately, we live in a society that too often looks at the elderly as “less than.” Unscrupulous adults who are hard pressed for cash can take advantage of older people and sponge up their assets before loved ones realize what’s happening.

Iconic actor Mickey Rooney was among the most famous victims of elder abuse — both physical and financial (the two may go hand in hand) — and the perpetrators were his own flesh and blood, as is so often the case.

Unfortunately, elder financial abuse is difficult to detect before it’s too late. In an effort to change that, CBS News recently ran a report on the most common signs of financial elder abuse. They include:

  • New “best friends”
  • Sudden obsession with an online acquaintance or lover
  • Unpaid bills, collection letters, or eviction notices
  • Disconnected utilities
  • Large, unexplained transfers or withdrawals
  • Recent estate documents, including powers of attorney, entrusted to suspicious parties
  • Missing property / assets / cash
  • Bank statements stop arriving in the mail
  • Outlandish stories about where all the money has gone
  • Suspicious signatures on checks
  • Caregivers begin to ask suspiciously probing questions about finances
  • Lots of money being spent on “care giving” but little to show for it

The National Committee for the Prevention for Elder Abuse, which proffered those tips to CBS, stresses that any of these observations might have more innocent explanations. But if something seems off, concerned loved ones should thoroughly investigate.

Elder financial abuse thrives on assumption, secrecy, and trust. Don’t let someone you love be taken advantage of by someone with selfish motives.

If you need help or have questions about your rights, don’t hesitate to call our New Jersey elder law attorney. We’re here to help.

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Five Ways to Retire and Maintain Your Standard of Living

“Don’t spend your old age pinching pennies!” That’s The Wall Street Journal’s plea to aging Americans for whom retirement is coming into view on the horizon.

But for many people, pinching pennies will be their only option. Why? Two reasons: Lack of planning and lack of savings.

Retirement, like old age itself, sneaks up on us faster than we could ever imagine. And it isn’t something we can plan for at the last minute. Old age requires money, and money can’t magically appear overnight.

“Half of us need to make serious financial changes,” the Journal says, “or we won’t be able to maintain our standard of living once retired.”

The stats support that claim. According to research out of Boston College, 52% of American households will suffer a decline in their standard of living if they choose to retire at age 65.

Aging Americans have five real choices then:

  • Work longer
  • Buy a lifetime-income annuity
  • Leverage home equity by selling and moving to a smaller house
  • Cut spending (considerably)
  • Put a better plan in place, starting now.

Actually, a combination of the above can prove very effective. But there’s no denying that the bottom of the list is most attractive. It offers preparation, peace of mind, and a more reasonable adjustment in your standard of living.

However close to retirement you may be, it’s never too late to start planning for the rest of your life. If you’d like to talk more about your options, give us a call. We’d be happy to help you figure it all out.

Posted in Aging, Finances, Retirement, Seniors | Leave a comment

Paying for Alzheimer’s: Medicare, Medicaid, and Long-Term Care

Few diagnoses are more devastating than Alzheimer’s, both in terms of its health toll and its extraordinary financial imposition on families.

Paying for long-term care isn’t easy, especially if you or your parents haven’t already been saving for years. Even well in advance, finding the extra money to set aside for a long-term care fund can be tough.

There is hope, though.

A new article over at USA Today’s News-Press.com makes that very point. Yes, it is a challenge. Yes, it is expensive. But resources and assistance are available. Paying for long-term care is possible, even if you aren’t wealthy.

“It’s a myth that you have to spend all your money and sell your home to qualify for government assistance,” the News-Press piece says. “Attorneys can work with families to set aside certain funds and make sure a healthy spouse does not live in poverty.”

Medicaid and the VA (Veterans Administration) provide financial assistance for in-home care, as well as assisted living and long-term nursing. Medicare, meanwhile, will pay for temporary skilled-nursing care (if medically necessary).

Applying for that assistance isn’t easy either, though. The requirements are cumbersome, and inexperienced applicants can make mistakes in one process that might work against them in others.

As New Jersey Medicaid attorneys, we at Medina Law Group offer both crisis planning and pre-crisis planning to help people fund their long-term care. We help seniors to qualify and apply for government assistance in a way that will protect their assets while alleviating some of the financial burden of long-term care.

Dementia is a frightening disease, but it does not have to invite financial ruin. There are avenues for help. It is our belief that people who’ve worked hard to earn and save money their whole lives should not have to lose those assets and turn entirely to their loved ones just because of a medical diagnosis.

There is a right way to approach government assistance. If you are interested in either applying now or planning for long-term care in the future, our office can help. Give us a call today.

Posted in Alzheimer's, Elder Care, Long Term Care, Medicaid Planning, Medicare, Seniors | Leave a comment