Commonly Asked Questions of an Elder Law Attorney - Part II
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Commonly Asked Questions of an Elder Law Attorney - Part II
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Commonly Asked Questions of an Elder Law Attorney - II

What long-term care benefits are available to veterans and their surviving spouses?  Long-term care costs can add up quickly. For veterans and the surviving spouses of veterans who need in-home care or are in an assisted living facility or nursing home, help may be available. The Veterans Administration has an underused pension benefit called Aid and Attendance that provides money to those who need assistance performing everyday tasks. Even veterans whose income is above the legal limit for a VA pension may qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit if they have large medical expenses for which they do not receive reimbursement.

Aid and Attendance is a pension benefit, which means it is available to veterans who served at least 90 days, with at least one day during war time. The veteran does not have to have service related disabilities to qualify. Veterans or surviving spouses are eligible if they require the aid of another person to perform an everyday action, such as bathing, feeding, dressing, or going to the bathroom. This includes individuals who are bedridden, blind, or residing in an assisted living facility or nursing home.

To qualify the veteran must have less than $80,000 in assets, excluding the home and vehicle. In addition, the veteran's income must be less than the Maximum Annual Pension Rate, which for a single veteran is $19,736; $23,396 for a veteran with one dependent; $12,681 for a single surviving spouse; and $15,128 for a surviving spouse with one dependent.

Income does not include welfare benefits or Supplemental Security Income. It also does not include unreimbursed medical expenses actually paid by the veteran or a member of his or her family. This can include Medicare, Medigap or Medicare supplement plans, and long-term care insurance premiums; over-the-counter medications taken at a doctor's recommendation; long-term care costs, such as assisted living or nursing home fees; the cost of an in-home attendant that provides some medical or nursing services; and the cost of an assisted living facility. These expenses must be unreimbursed, in other words, insurance must not pay the expenses. The expenses should also be recurring, meaning that they should occur every month.

How does the Aid and Attendance benefit work? Let me give you an example. The amount a person receives depends on his or her income. The VA pays the difference between the veteran's income and the Maximum Annual Pension Rate. John, a single veteran, has income from Social Security of $16,500 a year and a pension of $12,000 a year, so his total income is $28,500 a year. He pays $20,000 a year for home health care, $1,156.80 a year for Medicare, and $1,788 a year for supplemental insurance, so his total medical expenses are $22,944.80. Subtracting his medical expenses from his income, $28,500 - $22,944.80, John's countable income is $5,555.20. John could qualify for $14,180.80, which is $19,736 - $5,555.20, in Aid and Attendance benefits.

What are the benefits of pre-arranging your funeral plans? Most people avoid planning for their funerals and instead leave the decisions to their loved ones. Unfortunately, due to emotional duress, waiting to make those decisions until immediately after death can be unnecessarily expensive. According to the Federal Trade Commission consumer guide for funerals, funeral and burial costs can easily exceed $10,000.

Most consumers have no problem haggling over the price of a new car, but never think about negotiating the price of a funeral. Compounding the problem is the feeling that the price spent is reflective of their feelings for the deceased. To help resolve these issues, an increasing number of people are planning their own funerals. It is important to investigate the options and not let yourself be pressured into buying goods or services you do not want. You must learn to be an informed consumer.

Shopping around for funeral services can save you thousands of dollars. Do not assume that a funeral will cost the same no matter where you go. By federal law the funeral provider must give consumers a general price list of all goods and services. Typically included would be costs for the initial conference, consultations, paperwork and overhead. This is known as the basic services fee and is added to the cost of the funeral. There is a wide variation in the pricing of the basic services fee. The price list should include costs for transportation of the body, care of the body, including embalming, and use of the funeral home for viewing, wake, visitation and funeral or memorial ceremony. It should also include alternative arrangements such as cremation and optional services such as flowers, use of the limousine and a casket. It is recommended that you obtain price lists from at least three funeral homes before making a selection.

You may wish to make arrangements in advance, but not pay for the services in advance. Keep in mind that prices will change over time. You can make your preferences known by writing it down and by including it in your letter of last instructions. Remember to give copies to your family members and your attorney, as well as keeping a copy in a convenient and accessible location.

Make sure the funeral home is licensed and has a good reputation in the community. The National Funeral Director's Association suggests that you call and speak with the funeral director to determine their professionalism and to make sure you are comfortable with them.

Michael D. Weinraub, Esq., CELA, is Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the A.B.A. approved National Elder Law Foundation.

Michael D. Weinraub, P.C. is a holistic elder law practice that helps families plan for, pay for, and coordinate the long-term care of elderly loved ones. We work with senior citizens and their families who are overwhelmed or confused by all of the decisions they have to make planning for the future. Our practice involves the use of a Life Care Plan. The Life Care Plan places special emphasis on issues surrounding a long life. The Life Care Plan connects your concerns about long-term care as you go through the later stages of your life with the knowledge and expertise of an Elder Law Attorney and an Elder Care Coordinator who will be with you every step of the way to assist you in making the right choices. We offer personal service to our clients and do so with respect and compassion.


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