Monday, February 20, 2017

Older veterans - help with home care costs

Many older veterans are unaware that they can qualify for financial help in paying for the cost of home care. Most veterans completed their military service and moved on with their lives without looking to VA for any help.  But VA pension benefits can become important for these veterans in later life.
To qualify for VA pension the veteran must be 65 or older (or permanently and totally disabled for reasons not related to military service). In addition the veteran must have low income and only modest net worth. The veteran must have had 90 days of military service that included at least one day during a period of war.
To receive a pension, the veteran’s income must be below the maximum annual pension rate (MAPR) set by the government.  The pension program is designed to bring the veteran’s income up to that allowance. An increase in the MAPR is available to veterans (and widows of veterans) who are housebound or are in need of “aid and attendance.”
In determining the amount of the veterans income the VA will allow the deduction of unreimbursed amounts the veteran has paid for “medical expenses.” Depending on the circumstances medical expenses can include home nursing services such as assisting an individual with bathing, dressing, feeding and other activities of daily living.
Because medical expenses reduce countable income, an aging veteran who needs (or whose spouse needs) ongoing long term care services and supports may now be able to qualify for financial assistance from the VA. The extra funds can make all the difference in allowing the veteran to get the support needed to remain at home.
Pension eligibility is often overlooked because people are not aware of it at all or do not know that countable income is reduced by your out of pocket medical expenses. Pension benefits can also be available for a veteran who resides in an assisted living facility - where the entire cost may be deductible.
Pension, aid and attendance and housebound benefits can be a godsend for middle-income wartime veterans who are depleting their savings to cover health care costs. Our veteran earned these benefits by serving our nation during a time of war. Let’s make sure they get what they deserve.

For more information on VA pension benefits you can check with your County Director of Veterans’ Affairs, a Veterans Service Organization, or a lawyer who has been accredited by the VA. My law firm of Marshall, Parker and Weber has three lawyers on staff who have been VA accredited.

Friday, February 17, 2017

What is a "Durable" Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney is a legal document you use to authorize another person to act on your behalf. The rules governing powers of attorney are generally a matter of state law. Many state laws are based on the Uniform Power of Attorney Act. But the terminology and rules can vary substantially from state to state.  This article is based on Pennsylvania law as it exists in February 2017.
In Pennsylvania, the person granting the power is called the “principal.” The person who receives the authorization is called the “agent.” 
The authority granted by a POA depends on the language used in the document. Some powers of attorney are “limited.”  This means that the agent’s powers are limited to performing a single act or set of acts. For example you might give a limited POA to authorize someone to sell your car or house. On the other hand, the term “general” power of attorney is typically used to describe a document that gives the agent very broad powers.
Prior to 1974, the Pennsylvania law regarding powers of attorney was based entirely on the common law of agency. One aspect of that law was that an agent’s authority would terminate if and when the principal died or became incompetent. The disability of the principal served to revoke the agency.
However, many people wanted to be able to create a power of attorney that would designate someone else to act for them exactly because they had become incapacitated. They wanted to avoid the complications of creating a formal trust or the need to be subjected to guardianship proceedings. The aging of society and increasing longevity was exacerbating the need for a simpler and more accessible way for people to plan for their potential future incapacity.  
To meet this need, Pennsylvania enacted Act 295 of 1974 which modified the common law rule and allowed individuals to create a “durable” power of attorney. Pennsylvania law was modified a number of times thereafter and now provides[1] that unless specifically provided otherwise in the power of attorney, all powers of attorney shall be durable as provided in section 5604of Title 20 (durable powers of attorney). Section 5604 says:
§ 5604 Durable powers of attorney
Definition.--A durable power of attorney is a power of attorney by which a principal designates another his agent in writing. The authority conferred shall be exercisable notwithstanding the principal's subsequent disability or incapacity. A principal may provide in the power of attorney that the power shall become effective at a specified future time or upon the occurrence of a specified contingency, including the disability or incapacity of the principal.

Durable power of attorney not affected by disability or lapse of time.--All acts done by an agent pursuant to a durable power of attorney during any period of disability or incapacity of the principal have the same effect and inure to the benefit of and bind the principal and his successors in interest as if the principal were competent and not disabled. Unless the power of attorney states a time of termination, it is valid notwithstanding the lapse of time since its execution.
As noted in Section 5604, a principal may provide in the power of attorney that the power shall become effective only upon the occurrence of the disability or incapacity of the principal. That type of contingent POA is typically referred to as “springing.”
Both Pennsylvania law and the Uniform Act[2] now provide that a power of attorney is presumed to be durable unless the document states otherwise. No special language is required. Nevertheless, it is wise to include a specific statement to that that the agent’s authority survives the principal’s incapacity. Although all states now allow durable powers of attorney, some require such specific wording in the document.  
Here are links to additional information on powers of attorney:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Why Younger People should have Wills

[The following article was written by Elizabeth White, attorney with Marshall, Parker and Weber.]

It is easy to put off estate planning. Many estate planning documents don’t come into play until something bad occurs, such as death or incapacity, and no matter what your age, these are uncomfortable topics to discuss. This procrastination in estate planning is particularly true with younger people, where the urgency of a health crisis may not be present as a catalyst for them to put their wishes on paper. However, there are fundamental reasons – likely different reasons than those of an elderly client – that a younger person needs a will.
A younger person may not have accumulated as much wealth as his or her older counterparts.  But, that does not mean that they shouldn’t have a plan for the assets that they have earned. If a person dies without a will in Pennsylvania, the estate will pass pursuant to Pennsylvania’s intestate law. Often this is not how someone, including a younger person, would wish his or her estate to pass.
Many married couples want all of their assets to pass to their surviving spouse at death, and assume the law without a will provides for such disposition. As an example, in contrast to that assumption, let’s look at a married couple with no children whose parents are still living. If one spouse passes away, the intestate law pays the first $30,000.00 plus one-half of the balance of the estate to the surviving spouse. The other one-half of the balance is paid to the deceased spouse’s parent(s). When you take into consideration that some assets don’t pass through an estate, such as joint assets and assets with beneficiary designations, the situation can get more complex. A discussion of assets, how assets are titled, and who the person wants those assets to go to results in a will to make sure the person’s estate is administered as they desire.
For adults with minor children, a will serves as the document used to name a guardian of the person for those children should the parents pass. This is the person who will take custody and legal authority of the children. After the death of the parents, without this guardian designation, various relatives from either side of the family may feel strongly about guardianship of the children. This can create drawn out legal proceedings and uncertainty for children in an already tumultuous time.
On the financial side, considerations should be given as to the appropriate age for distribution of a child’s share of an estate. There are a variety of options based on the parent’s specific situation and preference, including trusts in wills, naming Pennsylvania Uniform Transfer to Minors (PUTMA) custodians, and directing appointment of guardians of the estate.

While a younger person may be more inclined to think time is on their side, a crisis could occur at anytime. The best way to ensure that your wishes are carried forth is to get those wishes in writing in your will.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

North Central Sight Services Celebrates 60th Year

[The following article was written by Megan Proffit, Marketing/Public Relations Manager, North Central Sight Services, Inc.]
North Central Sight Services Inc., has officially launched its Diamond Anniversary year, announcing an exciting year that celebrates the values of the agency employment, prevention, and independence. North Central Sight Services (NCSS) was established in 1957 as the Lycoming County Association for the Blind, which manufactured rubber door mats from recycled automobile tires, and performed subcontract work for local businesses. The agency has since evolved into a pillar of service in the local community, dedicating its efforts to the blind and visually impaired in six counties within North-Central Pennsylvania.
“Over the course of our rich 60-year history, North Central Sight Services has remained true to its mission – Provide exceptional programs, services and employment to the blind and visually impaired, as well as excellent education, prevention services and products to all customers,” says Robert Garrett, President and CEO of North Central Sight Services. “It is with great excitement that our team enters this Diamond year of celebration and reaffirms our solid commitment to the communities we serve.”
Annual events slated for 2017 will include some unique features to celebrate this Diamond Anniversary. Mark your calendars for the following signature events.
Dining in the Dark – This annual event will be held on March 18, 2017 at Le Jeune Chef on the campus of Pennsylvania College of Technology. Students at Le Jeune Chef work closely with the North Central Sight Services team to create an evening unlike any other. All guests are guided to their seats and served dinner completely blindfolded. This allows participants to understand in a very small way, and for a short period of time, what daily life can be like for someone who is blind or visually impaired. Dinner Sponsor for the event is Marshall, Parker, & Weber.
Annual Celebration North Central Sight Services is privileged to have such wonderful community supporters. Each year in April, NCSS honors those dedicated supporters and friends at a celebration and awards ceremony. This year a timeline display illustrating the evolution of NCSS will be featured for community members to enjoy.
Lions Journey for Sight 5K Walk – Join the NCSS team on May 7, 2017 to enjoy a day of friends and fun. Proceeds are returned to the community through rehabilitation services, prevention of blindness services, and employment for the blind and visually impaired.
Golf for Sight Tournament – This fundraiser brings local businesses together for an afternoon of fun and philanthropy. Teams engage in some friendly competition while supporting the mission and vision of North Central Sight Services. This year’s event will be played on Friday, June 2nd at the Wynding Brook Golf Club in Milton.
Updates and more detailed information on all of these activities can be found on ncsight.org. Also, follow NCSS on Facebook and LinkedIn for updates throughout the year.
About North Central Sight Services, Inc.
Our agency mission is to provide exceptional programs, services, and employment to the blind and visually impaired, as well as excellent education, prevention services, and products to all customers. We serve Lycoming, Clinton, Centre, Sullivan, Bradford, and Tioga Counties. www.ncsight.org.
Contact:
Megan Proffitt
Marketing/Public Relations Manager
North Central Sight Services, Inc.
Phone: (570) 323-9401, ext. 140

Thursday, February 2, 2017

How do I become a Guardian?

[The following article was written by Elizabeth White, a Certified Elder Law Attorney* with Marshall, Parker and Weber]
There are two primary types of adult guardians in Pennsylvania – a guardian of the person and a guardian of the estate. A guardian of the person is in charge of the health care decisions and living arrangements for of the individual. A guardian of the estate is in charge of the property management and finances of the individual. One guardian may serve in both capacities.
An adult guardianship is established through a legal proceeding. A person or persons petition the court to name a guardian or co-guardians for an individual.
A person must be deemed to be incapacitated in order for the court to name a guardian of the person and/or estate. Incapacity in Pennsylvania means that the person’s ability to receive and evaluate information effectively and communicate decisions is impaired to such a significant extent that he or she is partially or totally unable to manage his financial resources or to meet essential requirements for his or her physical health or safely.
The alleged incapacitated person, certain family members, caregivers, and institutions or residential facilities that assist in the care of the individual get notice of the legal guardianship proceeding. The petition that was filed with the court is served personally on the alleged incapacitated individual. He or she has the right to get his or her own legal representation in the guardianship proceeding.
Evidence must be presented by the petitioner in order for the court to determine incapacity. The evidence presented generally includes testimony from the individual’s doctor(s), caregivers, and family members. The court also hears the testimony of the proposed guardian in order to ensure that the person put forward to serve in the role of guardian is suitable for the position.
The guardian is to act in the best interest of the incapacitated person and should not have interests that are adverse to the incapacitated person. If the incapacitated person has expressed wishes or preferences, those wishes and preferences should be respected, to the greatest extent possible, by the guardian.
The guardian has the responsibility of filing guardianship reports, at least annually, with the court. These reports outline the actions of the guardian, and provide an inventory and financial picture of the incapacitated person’s finances. This provides supervision by the court to ensure that the guardian is acting appropriately on behalf of the incapacitated person.

A finding of incapacity through a guardianship is a last resort, as it can take away an individual’s right to make almost all legally binding decisions. Instead, the court appointed guardian assumes the role of legal decision maker. It is usually preferable to use a less restrictive measure to manage a person’s finances and health care. An example of a less restrictive measure is a power of attorney if the incapacitated person has a valid document, or if the alleged incapacitated person is able to understand and execute power of attorney documents pursuant to the law.
* Attorney White has attained Certification as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation, as authorized by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.