Medicare Open Enrollment 2020: What You Need to Know

Are you ready for Medicare Open Enrollment? Every year, Medicare health and drug plans make changes to costs, coverage, providers, and pharmacies in their networks. Have you considered that, between coverage changes and health condition changes, it may be wise to revisit health plans during the open enrollment period annually? This year, Medicare’s annual open enrollment period begins October 15th and ends December 7th.

For those already on Medicare, you should have received an “annual notice of change” from your Medicare plan in September. This letter explains all the changes coming in the new year, including coverage and costs such as premiums, deductibles, and copays. Review your medical expenses over the last six months, including a list of the doctors you see regularly and the medications you need.

Medicare beneficiaries without some sort of Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) may face Medicare cost-sharing if they have health problems. Original Medicare pays for much, but not all of the cost for covered health care services and supplies. A Medigap policy can help pay some of the remaining health care costs, such as copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles.

If you are not able to purchase a Medigap policy, a Medicare Medical Savings Account (MSA) might be a good option. MSAs combine high-deductible insurance plans with a medical savings account that you can use to pay for your health care costs.

Medicare Advantage plans are a type of Medicare health plan offered by a private company that contracts with Medicare to provide all of your Part A and Part B benefits. Most Medicare Advantage plans also offer prescription drug coverage. Before switching to a Medicare Advantage plan, be sure to examine it closely to see if it makes sense. While many have $0 premiums, the out-of-pocket costs can be high, or your hospital or your doctor may not be in-network.

The Medicare Plan Finder on is an online tool from the government to help you select a plan. After you enter your zip code and details about your medications and whether you receive them by mail, you can compare plans available in your area. You can also try the State Health Insurance Assistance Programs, which offer free local counseling to enrollees, or call 1-800-MEDICARE. 

For help evaluating your Medicare coverage options and which plan may work best for you, contact our office today to schedule a meeting time.

 

Estate Planning Awareness Week: How to Prepare for COVID-19 Continuation

Estate planning can be important for a number of reasons. Did you know that the U.S. House of Representatives even designated the third week of October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week? The week is an opportunity to recognize and raise awareness as to the many things that can be accomplished through a strong estate plan. The protections put in place by a comprehensive estate plan seem especially important during the Covid-19 pandemic.

When developing an estate plan, you should consider including:

1. A Durable Power of Attorney: A durable power of attorney is a legal document that gives an agent the authority to carry on your financial and legal affairs and protect your property by acting on your behalf when you are incapacitated. The power of attorney can give the agent the ability to do things like pay bills, write checks, make deposits, sell or purchase assets, and sign tax returns.

2. Health Care Planning Documents: These documents empower you to select a trusted individual who will be given the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are incompetent or incapacitated.

3. A Living Will: A living will allows you to indicate what kinds of end-of-life care you do and do not want when you are in a terminal medical situation. Without this document, your family will be uncertain about what types of care you would want, decisions which are often fraught and stressful.

4. A Will: This is possibly the most common legal document in estate planning. It can be used to direct the distribution of your property at the time of your death. It also allows you to appoint a personal representative to oversee the distribution of your assets. Additionally, it allows you to appoint a guardian to take care of minor children.

5. A Revocable Trust: This is a tool that can be used both for incapacity planning and for your estate after you pass away. This can be a great tool for maintaining privacy, and ensuring that your wishes are followed both during end-of-life and after you pass.

We know you may have questions. Let us help. Please contact us today to discuss the tools you need in your estate plan.

Using a Trust to Provide for a Child with Substance Abuse Issue

Did you know that, every September, we celebrate National Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month? Observance of this month nationally can be important to those who have recovered from substance abuse addictions and to their loved ones, for whom de-stigmatizing addiction can be a lifelong goal. Proper substance abuse treatment and mental health services for those impacted by addiction can be critical to making a lasting recovery.

Parents of addicts and recovering addicts can face difficult personal choices when deciding how to financially provide for their adult children to help ensure they can receive the treatment they need and live comfortably, without enabling or encouraging an addiction or relapse. Setting up a trust with special conditions can be an effective tool for parents of adult children with substance abuse issues to provide for them long-term.

When considering how much money you should leave to your adult child with substance abuse issues in a trust, there may be a few things you want to take into consideration. For instance, rather than leaving money to be distributed in large amounts, you may want to consider inserting planned distributions of modest amounts of money at regular intervals. This will provide enough money for your child to live on with a budget, but not enough to dissipate at any given time on addiction-related purchases.

You may also want to include provisions that allow the trustee to withhold distributions if he or she suspects substance abuse and allow the trustee to instead dictate that a distribution can be used only for treatment purposes in a given period of time. You can include provisions that allow the trustee to use extra money above the typical distribution for direct payments for counseling and treatment.

If you are setting up a trust for the benefit of your child with substance abuse issues and for siblings without similar issues, you may decide that the siblings’ inheritances will be distributed to them earlier, or even that they should receive their shares outright without being held in trust for any period of time. You do not have to make the same decision for every beneficiary. You could choose instead to keep the portion of the inheritance for your child with substance abuse issues in trust for life, with a trustee responsible for overseeing distributions, and the remainder going to his or her children, if they have any, or to the secondary beneficiary of your choice.

If you are the parent of an adult child with substance abuse issues, you may fear leaving him or her a lump sum of money that may be squandered or disinheriting him or her with the possible result of poverty and homelessness. Setting up a trust with specific conditions related to your child’s addiction may be a wise choice. It would be best to consult an estate planning attorney in your state to learn more about setting up a trust for the benefit of your adult child with substance abuse issues. Our office helps families put estate plans in place that reflect their unique needs and circumstances. Please feel free to reach out to our office to set up an appointment.

Helping Loved Ones Understand on World Alzheimer’s Day

On September 21, we celebrate World Alzheimer’s Day to raise awareness of the impact of Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia on loved ones afflicted and on family members and friends impacted by their diagnoses. Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia are often called a “family” disease because of the difficult impacts it can have on the afflicted person’s family members and friends. Supporting those with Alzheimer’s can also mean supporting their loved ones who help them to cope over time.

There can be many ways to promote understanding of Alzheimer’s Disease among family and friends. The first step may be to tell your loved ones, as soon as you feel comfortable doing so, after receiving a diagnosis. When you decide to have the conversation, it may be helpful to bring some articles that explain what Alzheimer’s means, and discuss the typical prognosis. 

You can also encourage loved ones to go online and visit the Alzheimer’s Association website to learn more. This way, instead of having to be the scientific resource yourself, you can give them the tools to learn more and make yourself available for more practical and emotional discussions about the specific situation and changes for your family.

If your spouse or parent has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you may want to take some time to discuss future caregiving plans with extended family members who want to be included in the process. It may also be advisable to complete any estate planning needs that remain unfinished before your loved one becomes incapacitated by Alzheimer’s, so that they can take an active role in the planning. 

It can be difficult for friends and family to explain Alzheimer’s when their loved one struggles in public. Sometimes, giving visitors a helpful speaking prompt and asking them to say their name and explain who they are, rather than expecting your loved one to recognize them immediately, can be helpful. Speaking to them naturally, and not treating them like a child, can help preserve their dignity. You can also explain that correcting your loved one when they make a mistake may be embarrassing to them, so letting the little things go can be the smoothest path for everyone. 

If you are out in a very public setting, like the grocery store or a park, you may want to carry some literature from the Alzheimer’s Association with you. If someone asks you questions, it can be an opportunity to educate and raise awareness of the disease. You never know, the person asking you might have a loved one who was recently diagnosed. Having information on hand could help him or her on his or her own journey. 

For more information about legal issues associated with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, please reach out to our office to schedule an appointment.

How to Help Seniors Prepare for a Hurricane During a Pandemic

For the next few months, Americans living on both coasts and in states along the Gulf of Mexico potentially face a common threat. That threat is facing a hurricane. On top of that, COVID-19 remains a public health threat in the United States. With all of this, how do you help seniors prepare for a hurricane during a pandemic? Let us take a look at how you can do just that.

A good place to start can be discussing potential hurricane risks so that older adults understand what they may come up against. Although they pose significant threats to coastal communities, hurricanes are powerful storms that often cause damage well inland, too. Make sure seniors are aware of potential dangers such as flash floods, high winds, and storm surge. By talking to older adults about these storm hazards, you can help them make informed decisions about evacuating, sheltering in place and so forth.

Additionally, be clear that staying informed can be very important during hurricane season. Most seniors have access to televisions and radios. It can also be important that they have other tools to help keep them informed about potential storm impacts.

 Encourage them to get a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA Weather Radio, and set it to their local or regional emergency channel. You can also download the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA app for them. This app provides weather advisories from the National Weather Service for up to five different locations throughout the United States.

 Check to see that seniors have access to the latest official guidance regarding COVID-19 and its impacts on hurricane evacuations in their community.

It may also be helpful to assist seniors in establishing an emergency plan and gathering supplies. Ask if an emergency plan is in place. If it is, ask if you can review it to see if it addresses all of their needs if they have to evacuate or shelter in place. If not, help them make a plan that addresses:

  • Communication with family and friends
  • Treatment of chronic health conditions
  • Pets and/or service animals

Help make sure they also have the supplies  they need to shelter in place or evacuate quickly. The American Red Cross suggests keeping these supplies in a “stay at home kit,” and a “go-kit.” A “stay at home kit” usually includes two weeks worth of emergency supplies such as: 

  •  Food
  • Water
  • Cleaning products
  •  Personal necessities
  •  Pet food

A “go kit” usually includes enough supplies to last at least three days away from home. These are:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Personal necessities
  • Masks/face coverings for adults
  • Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes 
  • Pet food and supplies
  • A one-month supply of prescription and over the counter medication

Our office works with seniors and their families in hurricane-prone areas and we understand the importance of proper preparation. If you have questions or concerns about hurricane readiness during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can help you connect with community resources. We are also happy to discuss any legal implications associated with hurricane preparation and recovery. Please contact us to arrange an appointment with our elder law attorney, today.

Will My Estate Lawyer Store My Original Estate Planning Documents?

When it comes to making an estate plan, there are some things you may not think to ask about and some things you may take for granted. Consider your original documents, for example. Did you ask your estate planning lawyer who is responsible for storing them? Or did you simply assume that he or she would give them to you? 

A few factors determine what actually happens. The first is whether your attorney still keeps his or her clients’ original documents. Some do, some do not. Even if your estate planning lawyer stores your paperwork, it may not be kept on site. 

If your attorney’s practice has transitioned to a paperless system, you may end up getting your original documents. You may also ask your attorney for the originals if you simply prefer to have them. Either way, let us go over some things to consider when deciding where to store your estate planning documents.

If you are going to keep your will and other estate planning documents at home, think about buying a fireproof and waterproof safe or lock box. If you get a home safe, make sure someone you trust knows the combination. If you opt for another type of container, make sure you put it as far out of harm’s way as possible. 

 It is recommended that you avoid hiding your original documents in an unusual spot, or in a spot known only to you. This would make it difficult, if not impossible, for your personal representative to find them after you die. 

 It is also recommended that you avoid keeping your original estate planning documents in a safe deposit box. One reason is that the bank is not always open. Another reason is that access to the box is restricted to the owner. If you were the only owner, your family or personal representative would need a court order in order to open the safety deposit box.

No matter what, make sure that you make and keep copies of the original documents. If your original documents are lost, a court may accept a copy of your will for probate. This is an option only if your personal representative convinces the court they have exhausted all efforts to find the originals.

Conversely, intestacy rules may apply if your family is unable to provide your original documents or copies. This means that state law will govern distribution of your estate, not your own wishes. This happens based on the legal presumption that you never had any estate planning documents or that they were deliberately destroyed. 

Estate planning documents provide critical information regarding your wishes for your future and that of your loved ones. If you have any questions relating to estate planning or where to safely store your documents, please contact our firm to schedule a meeting.

Elder Law – Three Documents Necessary During Any Emergency

If you are watching this video, you are concerned about what documents you need during an emergency. I’m talking about estate planning documents.

I’m Annè Desormier-Cartwright, of Elder and Estate Planning Attorneys, and I’m here to talk to you about the documents you want access to during an emergency and how to gain that access.

The first document is the Durable Power of Attorney. That’s where you name an agent to act for you. In Florida, a Durable Power of Attorney is immediately effective upon signing. That means it can be a dangerous document, so you must name an agent to act for you that you trust.

The second document is your Healthcare Power of Attorney. This document allows somebody to make health or medical decisions for you when you are not able to. This is a very important document as we come into hurricane season, because if you’re unable to make your decisions because you get hurt this is the document the medical provider will rely on to get you the medical help you need.

The third document is a Living Will, or an Advance Care Directive. That’s where you tell the world, “Keep me alive artificially, or don’t.” “Pull that plug, I don’t want to be kept alive.”

I get it, these documents can be overwhelming, the concepts confusing. We are here to help. Give us a call, the number is below.

(561) 694-7827

What to Expect After a Positive Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

A positive Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis is a life-changing event, but you and your loved ones are not alone. Every June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month and advocates across the health care, legal and nonprofit communities gather to raise awareness about the disease and provide access to resources for those in need. Here we discuss some of what you can expect after receiving a positive Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

There can be uncertainty and many emotions. Assuming symptoms like memory loss and abnormal confusion led you or a loved one to get tested, it is important to know that a rollercoaster of emotions may soon follow. Fear, anger, denial, despair, and hope are all common feelings, and understandably so. If they persist for a prolonged period, however, then consider seeking help from a health professional.

It can be overwhelming and often stressful. Taking care of yourself or supporting an afflicted family member can be critical to coping with the diagnosis. Consider taking care of yourself by:

  • Eating healthy and engage in light exercise
  • Sharing your feelings with close family and friends
  • Surrounding yourself with kind, supportive people
  • Joining an early-stage Alzheimer’s support group 

You can benefit greatly from seeking out support and resources. Alzheimer’s Disease can leave people feeling lonely, fearful, and disconnected. Sometimes people feel embarrassed or like they have something to hide. You do not need to. Consider reaching out to trusted companions or groups like the nonprofit Alzheimer’s Association. It is a leading participant in the June Alzheimer’s public awareness campaign and it has a 24/7 Helpline (1-800-272-3900) for information, referrals, and care consultations, as well as a local Alzheimer’s Association tool to find programs and services in your area. There is also an Alzheimer’s Navigator tool that gives customized guidance on topics like health care, transportation, and home safety.

Gathering information and being proactive about the positive diagnosis is often necessary to get the care needed. A positive diagnosis is based on a physician’s best judgement of the cause of a patient’s symptoms. Make sure to ask your evaluating physician why the diagnosis was Alzheimer’s Disease. Also, how far along is the disease in terms of its progression and what should you expect in the future? Ask about treatment options and which symptoms you should be most concerned about.

Receiving a positive Alzheimer’s Diagnosis can feel like your life is turning upside down. You do not and should not go through this alone. If you or someone you know would like more information or guidance on related legal matters, our team of dedicated elder law attorneys is here for you. Please consider contacting our office to schedule a meeting.

Family Caregivers Can Help Senior Adults During Older Americans Month

Senior adults have not only made a lifetime of contributions to society, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau seniors are on track to outnumber young people for the first time ever. Thus, older adults deserve both recognition and support for senior-specific issues that are only going to increase in the years to come, and that is what Older Americans Month is all about.

Since 1963, every U.S. president has declared the month of May, Older Americans Month. This involves ceremonies, events, fairs and similar activities, as well as connecting seniors to resources that provide valuable support services. Older Americans Month also coincides with National Elder Law Month, which provides outreach, education and legal services to seniors across the country. 

Adult children of aging seniors and family caregivers can play a critical role in facilitating these resources by assisting their elder loved ones. Let us share a few of these important resources for you to consider.

  • Eldercare Support: The national Eldercare Locator helps connect older adults and their family caregivers with trustworthy elder care organizations across the country.
  • Health Care: State Health Insurance Assistance Programs, or SHIPs, provide free support to Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers.
  • Long-Term Care: The U.S. Administration on Aging assists seniors in understanding what is involved in long-term care, such as nursing homes and assisted living. The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care helps older adults and their family caregivers understand their rights. It can also assist in obtaining help if they need it. 
  • Elder Abuse: The National Center on Elder Abuse helps combat elder abuse. Learning more about this critical issue can help identify warning signs, protect vulnerable seniors and take necessary actions.
  • Pensions: Millions of senior adults depend on their pensions to survive. Family caregivers can help resolve pension-related problems by connecting with groups like PensionHelp America.
  • Legal: The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, which our own attorney is a member of, is a nonprofit association that provides legal services for senior adults and people with special needs. NAELA established National Elder Law Month as a way to acknowledge the elder law profession and provide legal support for the nation’s senior community.

We know that you and your loved ones may need estate planning or elder law help right now. If you or someone you know would like more information or specific guidance on legal matters, do not hesitate to contact us now, or anytime throughout the year.

 

Tips to Consider During Women’s Health Week

It does not matter whether you are a young professional, a student, or a working mother. Twenty-first century life for American women is often a delicate balancing act. Further, it is nearly impossible to find a healthy balance if you are constantly putting everyone else first or, let’s face it, during a time of a global pandemic. These are just a few of the reasons why National Women’s Health Week is so important.

This year, National Women’s Health Week is celebrated May 10-16. During this time, women are reminded to look after themselves. Here are some tips we want you to consider this month, and throughout the year.

1. Make your health a priority. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, recommends that women take charge of their health by doing the following: 

  • Seeing the doctor regularly for routine checkups and screenings.
  • Getting plenty of exercise including aerobic and strength boosting activities.
  • Eating a healthy diet including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoiding foods that have too much sugar or salt.
  • Refraining from smoking or drinking too much.
  • Getting enough rest, at least seven hours per night for adults.
  • Finding constructive and effective ways to cope with stress.

Of course, the first step toward improvement is choosing to start. Experts acknowledge that taking the first step towards a healthier lifestyle is often the hardest part of the process. This is especially true if you already feel as though you are constantly juggling a million things at once. For many of the women we work with in our practice this holds especially true as they are the primary caregivers for young children and aging parents, in addition to working.

Instead of feeling pressured to try the latest exercise craze or fad diet, professionals say the best approach is to do what is most effective for you. They also say that identifying what that is may take some reflection on your part. Specifically, they suggest that you think about: 

  • Your goals
  • What motivates you
  • What is holding you back

In all honesty, prioritizing your health is now more important than ever. By now, everyone knows that social distancing and self-isolation are two of the most important steps we can take to slow the spread of COVID-19. Besides taking steps to protect others, the Office on Women’s Health also urges women and girls to take steps to protect themselves at this time. This is especially important for those who are most susceptible to the virus. 

Finally, health providers agree that emotional wellbeing is a key to safeguarding your physical health. In addition, finding healthy ways to cope with stress is an important part of the equation. 

We know this article may raise more questions than it answers and we want to help you. If you have any legal concerns that are causing you stress at this time, please know that we are here to help. You may reach us by email or phone and we will get back to you as soon as possible.