Monday, December 24, 2018

What to do when Dad should no longer be Driving


Do you remember when you first got a driver’s license? For me it was over 50 years ago, but I remember it vividly. It was both scary and exhilarating: the adulthood it implied, the freedom it offered, the awesome responsibility. Wow, that was a memorable moment of my life.
Now that I am at the other end of my life, I recognize that there comes a time when declining physical or mental abilities mean that it is no longer appropriate for a person to be driving   but it is hard to tell when that point has arrived. Cars are getting smarter, but they are not smart enough to tell us that it is no longer safe to drive.
Over the years I have met with many children of aging parents who expressed concerns that Mom or Dad was still driving. (For some reason, my recollection is that it was usually Dad, not Mom, who was the problem). This can be a big issue for both the kids and the parent. Children don’t know how to convince their parent that it is time to stop driving. They surely want to avoid a confrontation with their parent. And they understand that losing your license to drive is a big deal.
No one who drives wants that right taken away. Yes, it does seem like both a right and “rite” of adulthood. Losing it will be like returning to those pre-age 16 days, but without having the youthful ability to run and ride a bike. For an older adult, giving up the car keys can involve a significant loss of freedom, and increased social isolation and dependency. We don’t want to burden relatives and friends every time we need to run an errand. And if we live in a rural area, we may have no other realistic transportation options. It’s no wonder that the thought of not being able to drive creates anxiety and depression.
How do you know when the time has come to restrict driving, or maybe even stop entirely? And what can children do to help their parent through this difficult transition?
I’ve found that there is actually quite a bit of guidance available online. For example, the AAA website has a tool that can help seniors assess their skills and get advice on how to maximize their safety on the road. And the AARP website has advice and a free online seminar for family members. Additional resources are listed below in this article.
How to Assess Driving Ability
If you need to assess a senior’s driving ability, Consumer Reports suggests you watch for these red flags:
  • Slow response times.
  • Inability to fully turn to check blind spots.
  • Running stop signs.
  • Motorists honking at them frequently.
  • A hesitation or reluctance to drive.
  • Cognitive dysfunction, such as getting lost or calling for help.
  • Repeat fender benders, dings, or paint scrapes on the car.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation offers the following list of questions a child can ask their parent:
  • Do you feel less comfortable driving now than you did five years ago?
  • Have you had more near-accidents in the last year or so?
  • Do intersections bother you because of all the cars and activity in several directions?
  • Is it harder to judge the distance and speed of cars when you merge into traffic?
  • Is night driving more difficult because of glare and blurred vision?
A “yes” response to any of these questions suggests that a driver refresher course or a discussion with the older driver’s physician may be in order.
Information is available online that can help older drivers and their children assess driving ability. Especially helpful is an American Automobile Association booklet that allows older drivers to test their performance by answering a number of simple questions. Drivers 65 Plus: Check Your Performance,
The Hartford Insurance Company has a booklet that offers guidance to children about how to initiate a caring conversation with their parent about driving:
What you can do if the Older Driver ignores your legitimate concerns
What can a child do if Dad won’t respond to your concerns about his driving?
Discuss the problem with the older driver’s health care provider. You can turn to your parent’s physician for help. Of course, this can be a messy issue for doctors who typically have no training in assessing driving safety. This is not something that can be treated with standard medical advice or a prescription. And physicians are appropriately concerned about not violating patient privacy and maintaining the doctor-patient relationship.
But a doctor can provide patient counseling that can carry a level of influence with the older patient that may far exceed that of the children. And a physician can check for medical problems like vision or medication issues. So, seeking the help of Dad’s doctor is probably wise.
Be prepared for the older driver to be reluctant to discuss driving with his physician. He may fear that the doctor may report him to the licensing authority. (In Pennsylvania, doctors are supposed to report persons diagnosed as having a condition that could impair the ability to drive. Ultimately, it is the Department of Transportation, not the doctor, which makes the ultimate decision on whether to impose license restrictions.)
Here are some additional ideas for children who are struggling with this issue:
Schedule a driving evaluation. Some communities offer Driver Evaluation and Training programs for older or disabled drivers. Check with your local health system or your state licensing agency to find one near you. You can also check on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety web site to find out about testing options in your state.
Avoid tricks. Experts tend to recommend against using tricks – like hiding keys or disabling Dad’s car. Here is what the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) says on this subject: “It is better to maintain a sense of trust in your relationship, being honest and persistent. Encourage the person to make a decision to reduce or stop driving as appropriate. Be aware that persons who lose the privilege of driving often feel lonely or anxious because they have fewer opportunities to be with friends or involved in activities.”
Write your state licensing agency. As a last resort, family members and others can notify their state licensing agency (e.g. PennDOT) of their concerns. Drivers identified through these letters may be asked to submit medical information. Write a detailed letter regarding your observations and the driver’s specific medical impairment(s). The letter must also include your name and contact information. For Pennsylvania drivers this letter can be mailed to: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 68682, Harrisburg, PA 17106-8682. Reports submitted to PennDOT are confidential.
It may help reassure the older driver to know that it may be possible to obtain a restricted license rather than completely lose their driving privilege. In Pennsylvania a “graduated license” can be obtained that allows the senior to continue driving subject to certain limitations. PennDOT describes a graduated license as a type of license somewhere between full privilege and no privilege. For example, PennDOT offers a low vision restricted license to drivers with vision between 20/70 and 20/100. These drivers are limited to driving during daylight hours on roads other than freeways. PennDOT may also limit these drivers to driving within a certain geographic area as determined on a case-by-case basis.
Resources:
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation offers a free booklet
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation also has an Older Driver Information Center
Roadwise RX  (This is a free online tool from the American Automobile Association designed to allow you to record your list of medications in one central location, and to receive personalized feedback about how drug side effects and interactions between medications may impact your safety behind the wheel).
Consumer Reports has a list of Best Cars for Older Drivers.
DRIVER REFRESHER COURSES:
The following agencies conduct state approved classroom training courses for mature drivers. There are no written or practical driving tests required. The course fees are moderate, but vary with each agency:
 The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Contact the AARP state office at 225 Market Street, Harrisburg, PA 17101; (717) 238-2277 or via the Web site at www.aarp.org.
 American Automobile Association. Contact your local AAA office for availability or via the Web site at www.aaa.com.
 Seniors for Safe Driving. Call 1-800-559-4880 or via the Web site at www.sfsd-pa.com for availability
[This is an update of an article that was originally published in April 2014 on the Marshall, Parker and Weber blog].

Sunday, November 11, 2018

New Pennsylvania laws may impact older adults


The ending of the 2017-2018 Pennsylvania Legislative session has resulted in  the enactment of a flurry of new laws. Some may be of particular interest to seniors and their elder law attorneys. The new laws enacted in October include (click on the bill number to be taken to the underlying legislation):
HB 270        - Act 87 PACENET Income Limit Increase.
HB 1539 - Act 88 establishes temporary guardianship for kin caregivers such as grandparents.
HB 2133 - Act 89 Kinship Caregiver Navigator Program Act - establishes a kinship caregiver program in Pennsylvania to provide information about services and supports available to grandparents and other kin caring for children.
SB 180 - Act 90 Anatomical gifts. Updates Pennsylvania law on organ and tissue donation.
HB 1233 - Act 106 Mental Health Procedures Act – Revises standards for involuntary mental health commitment. Adds community-based outpatient health treatment as part of the involuntary treatment spectrum.
HB 1884 - Act 112 Patient Test Result Information Act provides for notification of patient test results to be sent directly to a patient or the patient's designee
HB 1885 - Act 113 Amends Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code to provide for increase in the amount of bond required by registers of wills.
HB 1886 - Act 114 Amends Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code to provide for court review of guardian reports.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Transfer Penalty with 3 Year Lookback Imposed on VA Aid and Attendance



 By Attorney Tammy A. Weber, CELA*

  
In a final rule issued on September 18, 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) amended its regulations governing VA pension benefits effective October 18, 2018.  This rule has been over three years in the making as the VA first proposed these changes in January 2015.  There is now a three-year lookback period with penalties for asset transfers, and there are new requirements for calculating net worth and deductible medical expenses.
Wartime veterans and their spouses can qualify for financial help in paying for the cost of care in their home, a personal care home or a nursing facility.  The benefit is an Improved Pension that is commonly called “Aid & Attendance.” 
Aid & Attendance
Aid & Attendance is an additional monthly cash payment of up to $2,169.00 (2018 amount) available to a veteran or the spouse of a deceased veteran, if it is shown that the claimant meets one of the following conditions:  1) requires the aid of another person to perform certain activities of daily living (ADLs) like bathing, feeding, dressing and toileting; 2) is bedridden because of a disability; 3) is a patient in a nursing home due to a mental or physical incapacity or 4) has eyesight limited to a corrected 5/200 visual acuity or less in both eyes or concentric contraction of the visual field to 5 degrees or less.  For more detail, go to the Veterans Affairs website.  The ADL of “ambulating within the home or living area” has been added and confirmation that assistance with two ADLs is required. 
Service During a Wartime Period
The Veteran must have served at least one day during a wartime period.  The dates that meet this wartime period are found on the Veterans Affairs website:  World War II (December 7, 1941 - December 31, 1946); Korean conflict (June 27, 1950 – January 31, 1955); Vietnam era (February 28, 1961 - May 7, 1975 for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period; otherwise August 5, 1964 - May 7, 1975) and Gulf War (August 2, 1990 - through a future date to be set by law or Presidential Proclamation).
The veteran must have been discharged from the military other than dishonorably and served at least 90 days, with one day during active wartime.  There is no requirement that the veteran was on the battlefield; he or she could have been doing paperwork at a desk.  The veteran will need his or her discharge papers, the DD-214, to prove dates of service and type of discharge. 
Net worth limitation
Prior to October 18, 2018, there was a vague $80,000.00 countable asset limitation.  Under the new law, the veteran has a $123,600.00 net worth limit; said sum including annual household income that is in excess of projected unreimbursed medical expenses when the medical expenses are reasonably predictable.  Assets that are not counted include a residence and the lot on which it sits that is similar in size to the other residential lots in the vicinity up to two acres (unless the additional acreage is not marketable), “personal effects suitable to and consistent with a reasonable mode of life, such as appliances and family transportation vehicles.” 
The new net worth limit is tied to the Medical Assistance (“Medicaid”) Community Spouse Resource Allowance (“CSRA”) and will increase with future Medicaid increases.  Although Medicaid is a different program than the VA pension, Congress adopted that number to prevent impoverishment of the non-institutionalized spouse of an individual receiving Medicaid.  VA drew a parallel that they did not wish any net worth limitation that would subject wartime veterans and their survivors to impoverishment.
Net worth or countable asset determinations will no longer take into account life expectancy, rate of depletion of assets and other factors.  The reasoning behind this change is that those factors have resulted in inconsistent, and sometimes unfair, decisions. 
Income
The Aid & Attendance benefit is reduced by the countable income received by the veteran and his or her household. But the veteran’s income is calculated after deducting unreimbursed medical expenses. This means a veteran with high unreimbursed medical expenses may qualify for the maximum Aid & Attendance benefit. In addition, some types of payments (some compensation or reimbursement payments) are not counted.    
Deductible medical expenses
VA defines medical expenses as those that are “medically necessary; that improve a disabled individual’s functioning; or that prevent, slow, or ease an individual’s functional decline.”  Included are health care provider payments, medications, adaptive equipment, health insurance premiums, transportation expenses and institutional forms of care and in-home care.  Medical expenses do not include meals, general health maintenance, cosmetic procedures, lodging or assistance with IADLs (instrumental activities of daily living).
Lookback period, penalty and cure
The new rules impose a 36 month (three-year) lookback for gifts and transfers for less than fair market value.  Any transfers after October 18, 2018 will be subject to a penalty period not to exceed 5 years.  The penalty begins on the first day of the month that follows the last asset transfer.  The divisor is the “MAPR [Maximum Annual Pension Rate] in effect on the date of the pension claim at the aid and attendance level for a veteran with one dependent” which is currently $2,169.00.  It appears that if the claimant made a $100,000.00 gift or uncompensated transfer within the three years prior to the claim for the pension, the penalty would be calculated by dividing $50,000.00 by $2,169.00 resulting in a period of ineligibility of approximately 23 months.
Some transfers to trusts and purchases of annuities that would not be in the claimant’s best interest were it not for the attempt to qualify for the Aid & Attendance benefit are treated as gifts subject to a period of ineligibility.  There is a presumption that an asset transfer within the lookback period was for the purpose to decrease net worth to entitle the claimant to the pension. Claimant has the burden of proof to rebut this presumption by clear and convincing evidence, a high standard.
There are some exceptions.  If, for example, upon retirement a claimant was mandated to make a transfer to an immediate annuity, the amount transferred to the annuity will not count as a covered asset; however the annuity distributions will count as income.
If a penalty period decision notice is issued, the claimant has 60 days following the decision notice to cure or partially cure a transfer and has 90 days following the decision notice to notify VA of the cure.
There are many nuances and questions from this new rule that will need to be figured out.  At the time of the writing of this article, local county Veteran’s Affairs Coordinators have not received implementation guidelines, so it remains to be seen how certain things will be interpreted.   
*Tammy A. Weber is a Certified Elder Law Attorney and the Managing Principal of the law firm of Marshall, Parker & Weber, LLC with offices in Williamsport, Wilkes-Barre, Jersey Shore and Scranton. For more information visit www.paelderlaw.com or call 1-800-401-4552.



Monday, October 8, 2018

Who to Choose as your Financial Pinch-Hitter – a Family Member or a Trust Company?


One of the most crucial estate planning questions is this: Who should you designate to step-in and manage your financial affairs if the day comes when you no longer want to, or are no longer able to, continue to do it yourself?
In my experience, most people don’t give much thought to this question, even though they will be trusting this person with their life savings and financial security.  People typically choose a family member, perhaps the oldest child or the one with whom they feel closest. This person may or may not be the best choice. They may not have the time and ability to effectively deal with the burdens of managing another person’s financial life.
Another option for many people is to hire a professional company to manage their finances if and when the appropriate time arrives. There are trust companies in most communities that specialize in this kind of work.
Many people who could benefit from the services of a trust company never even consider this option. They may think, incorrectly, that you need to be a millionaire to set up a professionally managed trust. But this is not the case.
In this article I want to try to clear up some misunderstandings about trust company services. I want to try to help you answer the question: who should I choose as my financial surrogate – a family member or a trust company. It is written from the perspective of an elder law attorney who is not an employee of a trust company. However, while I have no financial interests in any trust company, my wife and I have set up a revocable trust with a   trust company. This means I have both professional and personal experience with using trust companies.  
What is a Trust Company?
When I use the term “trust company” in this article I mean a corporation that is authorized to handle assets for the benefit of others. Although trust companies are often associated with banks they have different functions. A trust company serves as custodian of and provides investment and financial management services for funds that remain owned by the person setting up the trust or agency or by the trust beneficiaries.  This means that customer’s trust funds are not subject to the creditors of the trust company or any associated bank. It also means that trust companies do not have commercial banking powers and are not insured by the FDIC.
Some trust companies operate in only one state while others are national. Trust companies vary greatly in terms of the size of accounts they require and the fees they charge. So, it is important for the consumer to shop carefully to find a trust company that makes a good fit with the consumer’s particular circumstances and needs.
Powers of Attorney and Trusts
Two primary methods of authorizing another person to manage your financial matters are the power of attorney and the trust.
In my experience, most people who choose to name a family member as their financial surrogate use the power of attorney approach. With a power of attorney one person (the “principal”) gives another person (the “agent”) the authority to make decisions for and manage the financial and other assets of the principal to the extent authorized in the document. With a power of attorney, the legal title to assets remains with the principal.
The typical way to authorize a trust company to act as your financial surrogate is through creation of a revocable trust.  The person setting up the trust (the “settlor”) signs a trust agreement which gives the settlor’s directions for the trust. With the assistance of the trust company any assets the settlor wants managed are then re-titled in the name of the trust.  The trustee then manages the trust assets in accordance with the directions of the settlor. Everything is revocable, which means the trust can be modified and even cancelled by the settlor in the future.
These are the typical arrangements. However, there is nothing that prevents a family member from serving as a trustee or a trust company from serving as an agent. Trustees and agents may be an individual, more than one individual, or other entities if the entity is authorized to act as a fiduciary.
For more information on powers of attorney and trusts see my article, Financial Power of Attorney and Trust – Understanding the Differences.  
Agents and Trustees as Fiduciaries
Agents and trustees are normally going to be consider to be “fiduciaries” which means they owe a high duty of loyalty, responsibility, and prudence towards the other parties to the relationship. These fiduciary duties are typically not stated in the trust or power of attorney document but are specified by laws and court decisions. Trustees and agents may be required to account for their actions and can be held financially liable for any violations of their fiduciary duties.  
For more information on the duty of agents to account for their actions see my article Accounting for your Actions as Power of Attorney.
Family Member or Trust Company - Weighing the Advantages
At some point you may need some help in managing your financial life. Should you hand this responsibility over to a family member? Or should you choose a trust company to serve this role? Give this question some serious thought. The choice you make may be crucial to your future financial security and to the well-being of your family.  
There are some advantages of choosing a family member as your financial surrogate and some of using a trust company. I’m going to discuss some of the perceived advantages of each approach in the hopes of helping the reader make the best decision.
First, I want to discuss some of the perceived advantages of choosing a family member.:
Discussion of Possible Advantages of Choosing a Family Member as your Financial Surrogate
1.    No Financial Threshold.  A family member will serve even if you have very limited assets. Even if you are living month to month with no savings, a family member can step in to manage your checking account and pay your bills, taxes, and insurance premiums, and sign contracts for services you need.   
If you have no savings a trust company will be unlikely to accept you as a client. Trustees typically charge for their services based on a percentage of the funds being managed, with a minimum annual fee. If you have no funds to manage you will still have to pay the minimum fee.
Percentage rates and minimum fees vary widely among trust companies. You need to shop around.
 Smaller trust companies are likely to have the lowest minimum fees and percentage rates. There are small trust companies who charge a minimum annual fee of $1,500 or less. I am aware of one whose current minimum fee is only $500. This makes a small trust company a viable financial management option for individuals and couples with as little as $50,000 to manage.
But for individuals who truly have no savings a family member may be the only option.   
2.    Initial Simplicity. Although some trust companies are willing to serve as agents under power of attorney, most prefer that their clients create and fund a trust. Family members are generally more willing to serve as agents which requires no re-titling of assets. (Re-titling means changing the legal title on assets from you individually to your trust).  Because re-titling is not involved with a plan based on a power of attorney, it may be simpler to implement, at least initially.  However, third parties (e.g. stock brokers, banks) are less likely to readily accept the authority of a family member acting under power of attorney than of a trust company especially where a trust has been funded. So, the simplicity advantage of the family member-power of attorney approach may be short-lived.
3.    Family Members may Decline to Charge for their Services. Although generally entitled to a fee, a family member who serves as your agent or trustee may decide not to charge for their services. A trust company will charge.  But, see the further discussion of fees below under the topic “Experience.”
4.    Desire to have Family Members involved in certain Financial Decisions. The Principal may want to have a family member in charge of some types of financially-related decisions. For example, the principal/settlor may want a family member to review and sign contracts for services (e.g. home health aides), or to make decisions regarding gifts to children and grandchildren. However, the family member can be given this authority as part of a trust company-based plan. A trust company can handle the investments and pay the bills while the family member makes the more personal financial decisions. The family member and trust company can even be named as co-trustees.  So, this perceived advantage may not really exist at all
Discussion of Possible Advantages of Choosing a Trust Company as your Financial Surrogate
1.  Experience. If you need heart surgery you are probably better off seeing a doctor who has performed your surgery hundreds of times before rather than never. It is similar with managing financial matters like investing. Experience helps. A lot. It increases the likelihood that you will get higher investment returns with more safety. This experience factor offsets the perceived advantage of choosing a family member who doesn’t charge for services. For example, you are going to be better off with a trust company that earns you a 4% return and charges a 1% fee (3% net return) than with an inexperienced family member who earns only 1% and does not charge a fee (1% net return).
2. Prudence. Consistent with your goals and directions, a trust company is more likely to try to provide you with a diversified, safe investment portfolio. An inexperienced family member is more likely to choose investments that are either too conservative or too speculative. A trust company’s emphasis on prudence may help protect you from the poor investment returns or even losses that may be incurred by a well-meaning but inexperienced family member.
3. Oversight. In addition to having fiduciary responsibilities, trust companies are subject to government regulatory oversight and audit similar to that imposed on banks. This provides you with an extra measure of protection against improper actions.  
4. Stability. Your family member may get sick or die. A trust company will survive the illness or death of any individual.
5. Conflict Avoidance. A family member who is serving as your agent is often also a potential beneficiary of gifts and other financial rewards from you during lifetime or at your death. This can create a potential conflict of interest for your family member-agent. Even if the agent tries hard to be fair and impartial, other family members may perceive differently. This can create suspicion and emotional strain in your family. These concerns are avoided with a trust company. 
6. Systems. A trust company is going to have systems already in place to ensure that taxes and other bills get paid and other actions are taken in a timely manner. A family member may have to create such systems from scratch and is more likely to make mistakes, like failing to make timely payment of a bill.
7. Reporting. A trust company will provide you with a regular written accounting of all of the actions it takes on your behalf including all investments and payments. Such reporting is unlikely if a family member is administering your finances.
8. Burden Avoidance. Acting as someone’s financial manager is difficult and time consuming. A trust company can relieve family members from these burdens.
9. Impartiality. A trust company can serve as a financially and emotionally neutral third party. It can help limit and resolve family disputes and avoid discord.
10. Confidentiality. A trust company will provide confidentiality for your financial information. Maintaining confidentiality is much more difficult when a family member is handling your finances.  
11. Avoiding Legal Jeopardy for your Family Member. There is a constant flow of cases in the courts involving family members being sued civilly and even criminally for their actions as dad or mom’s agent under powers of attorney. Cases are brought by other family members and by governmental entities. A family member who has failed to keep detailed records of all actions, or made mistakes out of ignorance can be in very real legal jeopardy.  
12. Better Acceptance. Family members who are serving as agents often run into problems having a power of attorney accepted by a bank, brokerage, or other third party. Acceptance of your financial surrogate’s authority is typically improved if the surrogate is a trust company. This allows your transactions to take place more quickly and smoothly.   
Who should you Choose as your Financial Pinch-Hitter: A Family Member or a Trust Company?
As you can see, there are numerous advantages to having a trust company serve as your financial surrogate. Or perhaps a trust company and a family member should be named to serve together. If you have a modest amount of savings and investments (e.g. $50,000 or more) a funded and professionally managed trust may be a good planning solution for you. If you live in Pennsylvania you can talk about it with an elder law attorney at Marshall, Parker and Weber.