Life insurance policies can reduce Medicaid eligibility

submitted by E. Garrett Gummer, III, Esquire, and Maureen L. Anderson, Esquire, www.GummerElderLaw.com

To qualify for Medicaid in Pennsylvania, usually you can’t have more than $2,400 in “countable” assets. When calculating your total assets, many people overlook life insurance, which can count as an asset depending on the type of insurance and the value of the policy.

Life insurance policies are usually either “term” or “whole life.” Term policies won’t affect Medicaid eligibility because they don’t have an accumulated cash value. On the other hand, whole-life policies usually have a cash value that the owner can access, so they may be counted as an asset.

Medicaid generally exempts whole-life policies with a death benefit of $1,500 or less. But if a policy’s face value is more than $1,500, then the policy’s cash surrender value, less $1,000, becomes a countable asset.

Example: A whole-life policy has a death benefit of $3,500 and a cash surrender value of $1,500. Because the death benefit is more than $1,500, the $1,500 cash surrender value, less $1,000, counts toward the $2,400 asset limit.

If you have a life insurance policy that may disqualify you from Medicaid, you have several options, including:

  • Surrender the policy and spend the cash value.
  • Transfer ownership of the policy to your spouse or to a special needs trust.  If you transfer the policy to your spouse, the cash value will be counted among the assets that the spouse is permitted to keep.
  • Transfer the policy to a funeral home. The policy can then be treated as a prepayment of funeral expenses, which doesn’t count as an asset.
  • Take out a loan on the cash value. This reduces the cash value and the death benefit, but keeps the policy in place.
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Misperceptions about selecting cremation arrangements

submitted by Jason “Oz” Oszczakiewicz, Owner/Supervisor, Varcoe-Thomas Funeral Home of Doylestown, Inc.

When a family chooses cremation it does not limit their funeral choices.  There are several misperceptions that many families believe, but families can be just as creative as families selecting traditional arrangements.

While advertising makes it seem like direct cremation is the only choice, when you choose cremation you can have any kind of service or any kind of memorial you wish. That means you can have a traditional service and a cremation, direct cremation followed by a memorial service, a scattering and a permanent cemetery niche, or space in a cremation garden. A permanent place to remember loved ones fills an important need that a scattering just can’t.

Many families don’t realize that with a direct cremation, when the body is removed, they can view a loved one again prior to cremation. Many funeral homes require positive identification before cremation occurs, especially when family members are not in attendance at the place of passing. Many states also require 24 hours to pass prior to cremation for any investigative purposes or before a death certificate can be signed by a physician and a cremation permit issued by a coroner’s office.

Many religions also accept cremation as a form of disposition. Today, there are some families that still do not think the Catholic Church allows cremation, but the Cremation Rite has actually been around since the 1960’s. Families should check with their individual clergy or church regarding cremation and religious restrictions.

Cremation also has the connotation as being the “inexpensive” type of funeral. In many ways, cremation can be less expensive than traditional burial expenses, but can also be as equally as expensive if a family selects traditional visitation, selection of a wooden or rental casket, urn selection and burial of the urn or placement in a niche.

Families should consider all options before making hasty decisions when it comes to cremation arrangements, because there are many different options available today to meet the needs of each family.

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The price you pay for waiting

submitted by Gary Selleck, owner, C & C Family Roofing

Every day people make decisions on how they spend their money. Things like vacations, cars, schooling, home repairs, etc. Many of these things are very costly and can put a strain on one’s bank account. So you have to prioritize where the money goes.

In the world of home repairs there are a few projects that can be very costly. The roof is one of those things. But how does the average person determine the condition of their roof from the ground? The only way is to have someone look for the signs that the roof is failing or in disrepair.

The most common signs roofing contractors look for is the general condition of the roofing material. Are the shingles starting to lose the colored granules? Are the shingles curling or cupping? Are there any blisters (bubbles) forming on the shingle surface, and is there excessive fading of the color? These signs usually occur after the first 10 years. They are signs of moderate wear and are to be expected.

As the roof continues to age these signs become more pronounced and can lead to possible leaks. The shingles lose enough colored granules that the fiberglass matting is visible. The curling or cupping is noticeable and can lead to wind damage or shingle loss. The blistering increases and exposes nails or seams and finally cracking of the base membrane.

The hope is to wait long enough to get full value for the money spent on the roof, but the gamble is waiting too long and incurring damage to your interior. Don’t cost yourself more money by losing the waiting game. Have a professional roofing contractor come and evaluate your roof today. Don’t wait!

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Protecting your parents

submitted by E. Garrett Gummer, III, Esquire, and Maureen L. Anderson, Esquire, www.GummerElderLaw.com

As we live through the latest winter storms to strike our area, we often think about how this is affecting our aging parents. Most of us call to ask if they are okay, check on them, bring them groceries and shovel their snow. As caring children and family members, we worry about their safety and well-being. After all, they raised us and gave us a significant part of their lives. In the same way, we should make certain that our parents’ social and financial matters are in order. Sometimes we begin to notice that they may need more help. Seniors may often begin to neglect proper management of their finances or tend to ignore any warning signs regarding their health or well-being. This often becomes a good time to start a conversation with your parents to discuss how they might benefit from assistance from family members. This is also the situation where an effective elder law attorney can be a valuable partner.

Conversations regarding estate planning may include discussing the importance of preparing a new Will, Power of Attorney, and Living Will. Further discussions may include planning for senior living facilities, assisted living placement or nursing home care. This presents the opportunity to review how Medicaid planning and asset protection can preserve a legacy for the family. Meeting with an elder law attorney who is knowledgeable with the ever-changing laws and requirements, and who focuses their practice on these matters, can provide the peace of mind that you get when your mother tells you on a snowy night that she is just fine. 

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VA burial benefits for Bucks County veterans and spouses

submitted by Jason “Oz” Oszczakiewicz, Owner/Supervisor, Varcoe-Thomas Funeral Home of Doylestown, Inc. 

All honorably discharged veterans are entitled to a flag for burial or service, military honor guard, government grave marker, Presidential Memorial Certificate and burial at a state or government veteran’s cemetery for veteran and spouse.

If a veteran dies in a VA facility or hospital they are also entitled to reimbursement for transportation expenses from the place of death to funeral home as well as transportation to the place of burial, cremation or donation institution. There is also a possibility for reimbursement when a veteran received disability due to active service, and it is based upon the percentage of disability.

Bucks County veterans are also entitled to a $100 reimbursement from the Bucks County Commissioners Office when a veteran dies and served only during war time periods in the past during enlistment. Funeral directors will usually present this form to the family and the person responsible for paying the funeral bill would be reimbursed. 

There is also the ability for veterans and spouses to be buried or cremains to be buried or placed in a niche at the Washington Crossing National Cemetery in Newtown. Veterans and spouses are entitled to a free grave, burial vault, opening and closing of grave and free government grave marker. If cremated – cremated remains may be buried or placed in a niche with government marker or plaque free of charge. Services run on half-hour intervals and must be scheduled by the funeral director through the VA National Cemetery Scheduling Office with a copy of discharge for approval prior to scheduling a burial or service. Local veterans also donate their time and provide a 21-gun salute for all services – A Thank You to Those Veterans for Their Service!

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Steps for developing an obituary

submitted by Jason “Oz” Oszczakiewicz, Owner/Supervisor, Varcoe-Thomas Funeral Home of Doylestown, Inc.

Writing an obituary for a loved one can help family and friends communicate the loss to a community, while announcing the visitation, service, burial, entombment and memorial information. Many times the obituary is written prior to the loss to make sure information is accurate and conveys the information suitable to the family’s needs. Here are a few steps to constructing an obituary:

Announcing the Death – Begin with the name, age, and place of passing if the family wishes to tell everyone where the death occurred.  You might want to let others know if it was a short or lengthy illness or if the person was surrounded by family or friends when the passing occurred.

Biographical Information – The obituary is not a biography, but a sketch of the most important events, qualities and accomplishments in a person’s life. This may include – place of birth, parents’ names, educational accomplishments or degrees, employment history, as well as job title, company name and length of employment. Social clubs or organizations may also be included with any hobbies or interests. This section of the obituary is important to allow family and friends to understand the impact the decedent had on others.

Family – This section lists members who may be predeceased and family members that are still living. List a spouse and years of marriage if applicable, children and spouses, siblings and spouses, grandchildren’s names or a number if applicable, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, dear friends or pets.

Service Times – Many times the funeral director will construct this section to convey the proper date, place of service, address and time that service or visitation periods will be held. Sometimes services or visitation periods are held at the funeral home on one day and at a church or place of service on another day. The place of burial, entombment or private cremation may be listed. Following this information you may also list information for memorial donations and a website so family and friends may send on-line condolences.

A photo may be included for an additional expense, but can be a pleasant reminder of the person who has passed.

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‘Tis the season for gifting

submitted by E. Garrett Gummer, III, Esquire and Maureen L. Anderson, Esquire, www.GummerElderLaw.com

At this time of year we think about gifting for the holiday season. While gift giving is considered an act of kindness, it can also be an important estate-planning tool.

You may wish to give away assets during your life, so they are not included in your estate and subject to tax upon your death. However, you need to consider the tax laws that may apply.

According to the IRS code, a gift is a voluntary transfer of property from a donor to a donee without full and adequate consideration. An individual may give gifts up to $14,000 each year to as many individuals as they wish without incurring any gift tax. A married couple can make joint gifts up to $28,000 each year. This $14,000 exclusion does not apply to gifts to charities or gifts between spouses. There is no limit to how much an individual may give their spouse or charities each year. Also, any medical expenses or school tuition of another is excluded.

If you give an individual $20,000 during the year, which exceeds the $14,000 limit, you will have to file a Federal Gift Tax Return for the year, but will probably not have to pay any tax.

The IRS code allows a $5,250,000 exemption from Federal Estate/Gift taxes. Therefore, until the $5,250,000 is exhausted, no Federal Gift Tax is due. If you do not exhaust your federal exemption during your lifetime, you will be able to use it as an exemption for federal estate taxes after your death. 

In addition to Federal Gift Tax, one must think about Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax when contemplating gift giving. If you transfer an asset to another individual during your life for the purpose of avoiding inheritance tax, you must live for one year following the transfer, or the asset will be counted as part of your estate at death. 

During this busy season, take the time to consider gift planning for you and your family. 

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Developing a eulogy for a loved one

submitted by Jason “Oz” Oszczakiewicz, Owner/Supervisor, Varcoe-Thomas Funeral Home of Doylestown, Inc. 

Delivering a eulogy for a family member or friend is a wonderful way to participate in a funeral or memorial service. It provides an opportunity to acknowledge the importance of a life once lived, and remind survivors of the memories and legacy left behind.

When writing a eulogy one needs to focus on the life and memories of the deceased and not to focus on the nerves or concerns of the person writing or delivering the eulogy. Spending time with family members and friends and writing down memorable stories and sayings about a loved one will assist in preparing the eulogy. Brainstorming allows the person delivering the eulogy to write down any ideas, information, perspectives, music and food associated with the person to provide mental images of a loved one. Developing a theme for the eulogy allows one to also tie together those stories, facts and images into a unified idea.

Once the eulogist gathers information and has a theme in mind they will need to weave the information into some type of order. Remember not to use fancy or unfamiliar language and keep the information flowing like a normal conversation. This is not the time to ‘set the record straight’ on any unresolved issues or familial problems. Take time to edit the eulogy so it makes sense and sticks to the theme.

Finally, take the time to practice the eulogy in your mind as well as reading it aloud like standing in front of an audience. Be sure not to make it too long or short and gauge the length of the eulogy between 5-10 minutes. Going over a specific period of time may lose the audience and people will not be engaged by the information or stories that are being conveyed. Make sure you have a copy of the eulogy and speak slowly and clearly so everyone may share in a true remembrance of a life once lived.

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Housing choices for seniors

submitted by E. Garrett Gummer, III, Esquire (CELA), Elder Law Offices of E. Garrett Gummer, III

In the past, most seniors received long-term care in their homes. The surroundings were familiar, and they received support from family members. Today, with children moving away and seniors living longer, other care options are increasing in popularity. This article will explore some other choices available to seniors.

If you are in good health and do not suffer from dementia-type disabilities, an independent living community may be a viable choice. Independent living is similar to maintaining an apartment or owning a condominium. The community provides security for its residents, as well as meals and social activities. Usually, the independent living communities do not provide supervised medical care.

Assisted living/personal care facilities are similar to independent living communities in that they both provide housing for seniors. The main difference is that these facilities provide health care to their residents. If you need assistance with activities of daily living, such as dressing and bathing, this may be the answer. Most have several levels of care available, and some specialize in particular care areas, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Nursing homes are for people requiring skilled nursing and custodial care. They provide round-the-clock care to residents. All nursing homes have a staff physician and registered nurse supervisors. These facilities are regulated by the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act and the laws of each state.

Continuing care retirement communities offer all three levels of living in one community. It allows residents to move to the next level of care as their care needs change.

Today, the senior population has choices for long-term care. What choice is best depends on specific care needs. It is a decision usually made by the senior and/or their family, with the help of their physician, attorney, and financial advisor.

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House drafts are a constant battle

submitted by Gary Selleck, owner, C & C Family Roofing

Did you ever walk past a window or a door and feel a draft that sends shivers up your spine? As if Death himself has laid his hand on you. Often this is a result of improper insulation in your home. The hot air from your heating system escapes through the inadequate insulation areas and thus your heating system needs to run more often to compensate. This air infiltration can lead to increased heating costs, moisture build up on the wood framing and could possibly lead to mold.  The same thing could be said during the summer.

There are many areas in older homes that lack the proper insulation. The attic is the most common area. Older homes rarely meet the minimum recommended R-value for insulation. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends the northeast region to have a minimum R-38 insulation to maximum R-60 insulation in your attic space (bat insulation or blown-in insulation). An easy way to determine whether a home has an insulation issue is during the winter months. Snow accumulation normally melts during the daylight hours.

Some other areas on a house where poor insulation is found are around windows and doors. When windows and doors are installed properly there is a minimal gap that should be insulated. Many houses have larger openings and the insulation sags or misses altogether.

Like many things in life, people would rather not know and just presume things are fine, all while their heating and cooling bills are unreasonably high or they’re suffering with an uncomfortable home. Have your home insulation checked by a professional insulation company before the winter really sets in. Don’t get left out in the cold!

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