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Davidow, Davidow, Siegel & Stern, LLP
Long Island's Elder Law, Special Needs & Estate Planning Firm

Monday, April 25, 2005

Social Security: Not Just for Retirees

The rate of return debate diverts attention from the fact that Social Security is much more than just a successful retirement program. Retired workers account for only 29,953,000, 62.8 percent of Social Security's 47,688,000 beneficiaries. More than 3 million beneficiaries are spouses and minor or disabled children of retired workers, while almost 7 million are survivors of deceased workers. Close to 8 million are disabled workers and their spouses and children. To put a human face on this, several members of the House of Representatives have disclosed that they lost their parents early in life and were brought up with the assistance of Social Security survivor's benefits. These include two of the five Democrats on the Social Security Subcommittee, Rep. Earl Pomeroy (ND) and REp. Richard Neal (MA). Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Rep. Rush Hold (D-NJ) also received survivors' benefits.
Since retirees account for only 62.8 percent of Social Security beneficiaries, if one were to accept the notion of comparing rates of return between Social Security Retirement and private accounts, the proper comparison would be with a reduced percentage of net earnings on private accounts in order to allow for the Social Security money used to fund non-retirement benefits.

Source: Washington Weekly, Vol. XXXI, Issue 6, February 2005.

Alzheimer's Aid
According to Boston University researchers, brightly colored plates might help Alzheimer's patients finish meals. Patients often have trouble distinguishing objects from backgrounds.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Clothing Gifts No Longer Count as Income Under New SSI Rules

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will no longer count gifts of clothing as part of income or household goods as resouces in deciding whether a person can quality for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits under final rules just issued.
First, the agency is eliminating clothing gifts from the definition of income and from the definition of in-kind support and maintenance. As a result, it says it generally will not count gifts of clothing as income when deciding whether a person can receive SSI benefits or when it computes the amount of the benefits.
Second, SSA is eliminating the dollar value limit (previously $2,000) for the exclusion of household goods and personal effects. As a result, the agency will not count household goods and personal effects as resources in deciding whether a person can receive SSI benefits.
Third, the SSA is changing its rules for excluding an automobile in determining the resouces of an SSI applicant or recipient. It will exclude one automobile (the "first" automobile) from resources if the vehicle is used for transportation for the individual or a member of the individual's household, withouth consideration of its value.
The regulations took effect March 9, 2005.

Source: The ElderLaw Report, Vol. XVI, No. 9, April 2005.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Terri Schiavo: The lesson from the loss

If we can all agree upon one thing, it is that similar situations can be avoided with advance planning and discussion with family members. Elder Law attorneys are uniquely qualified to assist individuals and their families when confronted with difficult decisions regarding medical treatment, or the withholding of medical treatment. Although court-appointed guardians can usually make healthcare decisions, including end-of-life decisions, an individual is far better served by executing an advance directive which can be in the form of a living will, health care proxy or a combination of these documents. A living will is an expression of how the individual wants to be treated during end-of-life care. The health care proxy is a delegation of authority to a third party to make healthcare decisions for the individual when the individual is unable to do so. All 50 states and the District of Columbia impose statutory requirements on the content and execution of health care proxies for them to be valid. However, New York does not have statutory law regarding the creation of a living will.

Should an individual use a Health Care Proxy and/or a living will? Some claim that the use of a living will is a failure because individuals lack the knowledge to make intelligent decisions in advance, and so their preferences are not adequately articulated in the living will. Others note that too often living wills are not accepted by third parties. Since New York does not recognize living wills, they are instead treated as a statement of the individual's values. Davidow, Davidow, Siegel & Stern recommend a combination of a living will and a health care proxy; we call this an advance directive. The living will is needed to state the individual's preferences and the health care proxy is needed to appoint an agent as well as a successor agent, and authorize the agent to implement the individual's preferences.

Davidow, Davidow, Siegel & Stern discuss with all their clients, how to make the existence of the client's advance directive known to the client's family and physicians. At a minimum, the client should have a candid and frank discussion of the advance directive and the client's healthcare preferences with the client's immediate family, healthcare agents and primary care physician, and provide each of them with copies of their advance directives.