Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Educational Opportunity and Credits at Program for Pennsylvania Senior Network Professionals

Each spring for the past 16 years professionals who provide services to seniors have had the opportunity to attend a free one-half day education and networking conference. 400 to 500 aging, health care, legal and financial professionals attend each year. 

This year the Marshall, Parker and Weber 17th annual Professional Update will take place in Williamsport on Wednesday May 1, 2013 and in Wilkes-Barre on Thursday May 2nd. You can attend whichever location is most convenient to you.

Keynote speaker for this year’s event will be Jan Nelson founder of the Center for Courageous Aging, located in Marietta, GA. Jan’s mission is to “believe in, dream with and discover the potential in our elders and those who care for them.” 

In 1999 Jan began working with Second Wind Dreams as COO and Program Coordinator. In that capacity she provided support in the development of the Virtual Dementia Tour ®

During the conference Jan will facilitate individual virtual dementia tours for attendees who wish to participate. The tour will allow attendees 10 minutes to put on goggles, gloves and earphones in order to emulate a person with dementia. Then, they will be asked to perform several different functions. The tour is likely to change your perception of aging. Here is a link to a video that explains the tour in more detail: VDT link.

The Professional Update will also include a review of recent legal and regulatory developments of importance to seniors and their advisors and care givers. Popular individual break-out sessions for financial professionals and health care / social services professionals will be repeated this year.

Free or very low cost continuing education credits are available for most professionals.

Exhibit tables and other benefits are available for Professional Update sponsors. If you would like to learn more about our sponsorship opportunities, please contact Melissa Bottorf at 570-321-9008 x. 203 or

Hundreds of Elder Network Professionals attend the Marshall, Parker and Weber update each year. Attendees normally include:
  • Nursing Home and Personal Care Home Staff
  • Financial Advisors
  • Home Health Professionals
  • RNs, Social Workers, Geriatric Care Managers, Admissions Coordinators
  • Trust Officers and Banking Professionals
  • Attorneys
  • Accountants
  • Area Agency on Aging Caseworkers

There is no cost to attend the event. Breakfast is included. More information on the event and registration is available here:

The Marshall, Parker and Weber Professional Update gets rave reviews each year from attendees. I hope to see you there this year.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

For Retirees: these 4 little words mean a lot

Retirement can be great, but it also can be overwhelming.  Tax rules are constantly changing. Estate planning is complicated. And it’s nearly impossible to figure out your health insurance. There are government programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Veterans Pension that can greatly improve our lives, but not we are unaware of their benefits or don’t know how to qualify.  

Planning ahead is so important - but it is difficult if you don’t have the best information and expert guidance. How do you find answers to complicated questions like the following: 

  • What should you do now to avoid being a burden on your family later?
  • How can you best provide for your family when you are gone?
  • If illness strikes, how do you get the care you need at a price you can afford?
  • If you end up in an assisted living facility or nursing home, how can you prevent your children from being personally responsible for the costs?

Above all - how do you know that you are getting the best information so that you can make the right decisions?

To get the planning help with later life legal issues like these  you should remember these four words: Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA)

In Pennsylvania, a CELA is a lawyer who has been certified by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as having the experience and training required to provide the expert advice and assistance needed by seniors.  

For a retiree who doesn’t have the opportunity to “start over” mistakes can be particularly costly.  So it makes common sense to seek the guidance of a lawyer who is a certified expert in ever-changing field of elder laws and planning. 

The key is to look for the word "Certified." Any lawyer is legally allowed to say she practices any kind of law, including “elder law.” No special knowledge is required.  To deal with this problem and help retirees find a lawyer with special skill in elder law, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court established an elder law certification program. 

To be certified, a lawyer must have extensive experience in elder law, be recommended by other experts in elder law, and prove their knowledge by passing a difficult CELA examination. The test is tough. Most lawyers who take the CELA exam fail it. 

Only lawyers who have met all of the Supreme Court’s requirements are allowed to state that they have attained CELA status and are certified specialists in elder law. It is unethical for a lawyer to state that they are a CELA or specialist in elder law if they have not met the certification requirements

So, when you are looking for legal help during retirement, you need to ask – are you CERTIFIED in elder law.  

If you are a retiree and need help with estate planning, protecting your assets from nursing home costs, or other legal issues, choosing an elder lawyer may be one of the most important decisions you will make – both for you and for your family.  To help ensure that you will get the best possible legal care, make sure you remember those 4 important words - choose a Certified Elder Law Attorney. 

I’m proud to say that at my law firm, Marshall, Parker and Weber, Tammy Weber, Matt Parker and I are all CERTIFIED Elder Law Attorneys.  

Further Information:

Tammy Weber, Matthew Parker and Jeffrey Marshall have been Certified as Elder Law Attorneys by the National Elder Law Foundation, under authorization by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The National Elder Law Foundation website has a list of Certified Elder Law Attorneys in each state. 

Lawyer Specialization: Selecting a Certified Elder Law Attorney


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Your Medicare Card: What does the letter after the SSN mean?

The other day a retired friend asked me what the letter means on his Medicare card. His is an “A” which appears after his social security number. It is on his Medicare card but not on his Social Security card. His wife’s Medicare card has a different letter on it – a “B”. Even more confusing, he said, his wife’s Medicare card has his social security number on it. “Why is that?” he asked.

Good Question. I had wondered about that myself when I reached age 65 and got my Medicare card. Here is the answer. 

Different Categories of Social Security Benefits

Over 1.6 million Pennsylvania retirees receive a payment from Social Security each month on their own earning record. But Social Security is much more than just a retirement program for workers. Nationally, only about 64% of beneficiaries receive their payments as retired workers. 

Another 4.2% receive benefits as non-working spouses based on the retired worker’s earnings. The remaining 32% receive benefits as disabled, survivors, or dependents. 

Social Security assigns letter codes to identify under which category a recipient is qualifying for his or her benefit. The Social Security website has a list of the most frequent codes – you can find it here.  

My friend qualified for Social Security on his own record as a wage earner. Thus the letter on his Medicare card is “A” – the most prevalent code.  His wife did not work outside the home. She qualified for social security benefits as the spouse of a retired wage earner, based on her husband’s record. Thus, her card uses the letter “B” along with the social security number of the wage earner - her husband. 

Social Security Numbers Continue to be used on Medicare Cards

While the letter codes do not appear on your Social Security card, they are used on your Medicare card. Your Medicare claim number is the social security number of the primary wage earner on which benefits are based, plus your appropriate letter code. 

Your letter code can change if your benefit category changes. For example, if you get Medicare benefits at age 65 based on your own work record but are deferring claiming your social security benefits, you will be assigned the code letter “T”: that means you are fully insured but have elected to collect only health insurance (Medicare) benefits for now. When you later do sign up to start receiving Social Security monthly payments your letter code will be changed to “A” and you will get a new Medicare card.   

A Dangerous Practice

Another good question is: why does the government keep showing social security numbers on the Medicare cards we have to carry and use so often, given the serious threat of identity theft? Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for that. 

I do understand that changing to a new numbering system would cost the government some money and require reissuance of over 50 million cards. But exposing Medicare beneficiaries to an increased risk of identity theft is just unacceptable. Wouldn’t it be nice if Congress required a change in this dangerous practice as part of any upcoming changes to the Medicare program?  If you agree, let your Congressional representatives know you care about this important financial protection issue. 

In the meantime, we are stuck with seeking other ways protecting our identity and privacy. Personally, I don’t carry my original Medicare card. I carry a photocopy from which I have removed the social security number.  I give my social security number verbally to the health care provider at the time I present a photocopy of the card and request services.

Not a perfect plan, I’ll admit. But, at least it may help protect me if my wallet gets lost or stolen.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Dangers of Giving your Home to your Children explained

"Should I give my home to my children," is a question that troubles many aging parents.  While the answer varies depending upon your particular situation, giving your house to your children during your lifetime may be poor planning.  This article discusses some factors you may wish to consider before making such a gift.

People express many reasons for putting their homes in their children's names.  Among them are the desires to save on death taxes, to avoid probate, and to protect the home from nursing home costs.  The transfer of a home from parents to children may result in a savings of death taxes.  It may also avoid probate costs if the children do not predecease the parents.  Unfortunately, however, the transfer of a home may have several negative consequences that are often overlooked.  For example, such a transfer may actually expose more of your assets to nursing home costs, and may burden your children with unnecessary income taxes. 

       The home and related real estate of a nursing home resident are normally protected assets.  When you are no longer able to pay privately for needed nursing home care, Pennsylvania's Medical Assistance program will usually help pay for your care.  A nursing home resident merely needs to follow some simple requirements of Medical Assistance to make a home an "unavailable" resource, which is protected from nursing home costs.   

It is important for you to understand that your home does not need to be sold to pay for the costs of nursing home care as long as either you or your spouse considers it your permanent residence.  Pennsylvania does not place liens against the home of a nursing home resident who is receiving Medical Assistance.  Furthermore, any nursing home that participates in the Medical Assistance program (most do) cannot force a resident who runs out of money to turn the home over to the nursing home or sell it.

A problem does exist due to the Medicaid Estate Recovery law.  Because of this law, the state may someday try to recover from your estate for amounts the government contributed toward the cost of your nursing home care.  But with careful planning, based upon sound professional advice, you can avoid having the state recover from your heirs after your death.  Making a gift of your home to your children is usually not necessary to protect the home from nursing home costs and cost-recoveries.

        In fact, giving away your home can actually prevent you from receiving government assistance with nursing home costs.  If you give your home to your children and apply for Medical Assistance within 60 months of the gift, the transfer of this otherwise protected asset can make you ineligible for Medical Assistance.  Since the value of a home is usually significant, the ineligibility period may be long.  So, transferring your home to your children may be a terrible mistake if you are likely to need nursing home care in the near future.

If your home has appreciated significantly in value, its transfer to your children can also carry with it an income tax time bomb.  If a child inherits the home through the death of a parent, the child gets a "stepped up" tax basis in the home.  In effect, the capital gains tax on the appreciation of the home's value during the parent's ownership is forgiven for purposes of income taxation.  However, if the child received the home as a lifetime gift from the parent, the child gets no step up in tax basis.  When the child sells the home, the child will pay capital gains income taxes on the appreciation in value that occurred during the parent's ownership.  This may amount to many thousands of dollars in income taxes that would be avoided if the gift was not made until death.

Furthermore, the gift of your home during your lifetime may result in other negative tax consequences.  For example, the capital gains exclusion that is available to people who sell the homes which they own and in which they reside may be lost.

         It is also important to recognize that you lose control over a most valuable possession by giving your home to your children.  Your home becomes subject to the creditors of your children.  It will be included, and taxed, in the child's estate if your child predeceases you.  The home can be lost in the event the child dies, or runs into financial or marital difficulty.

Parents and children are usually unaware of the disadvantages of a gift of the home.  They often decide not to make such a transfer when the consequences are explained to them.  Unfortunately, many such transfers are made without adequate legal and tax advice.  

 Gifts or other transfers of the home can make sense in some situations.  However, you should not give your home away without full consideration of all of the advantages and disadvantages of such a transaction.

Additional Information: