Thursday, December 27, 2012

The “Fiscal Cliff”- If No Agreement is Made, What Does it Mean for Seniors?

As lawmakers left the Capitol for Christmas break, efforts to thwart the year-end “Fiscal Cliff” were in disarray.  If negotiations between Obama and Congress collapse completely, 2013 looks like a rocky year for seniors and all Americans. The following could happen:
  • Taxes would jump $2,400 on average for families with incomes of $50,000 to $75,000.  Because consumers would get less of their paychecks to spend, businesses and jobs would suffer.
  • Americans would feel cuts in government services.  Note: A few areas, such as Social Security benefits, Veterans Affairs and some programs for the poor, are exempt.
  • Social Security recipients might see their checks grow more slowly.  Obama and Republican leaders want to change how the cost-of-living adjustments are calculated.  This would mean smaller checks over the years for retirees who get Social Security, veterans' benefits or government pensions.
If Washington bypassed the “Fiscal Cliff,” the next crisis would be when the government reaches a $16.4 trillion ceiling on the amount of money it can borrow. This could happen as early as February or March 2013.  Time for deal-making is short, with less than a week to vote on a compromise before year's end.  Read the Huffington Post article for more details.

With the Fiscal Cliff looming, change can affect laws and regulations affecting seniors.  We here at the Fairfax Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C are here to help you plan for the protections you want.  Please call us at 703-691-1888 to learn more about how we can help you plan for your future.

Get a Jump on Those Financial New Year's Resolutions You'll Be Making!

Happy New Year!  January is Financial Wellness Month.  It comes at a great time, since many seniors resolve to save money in the coming year.  What better way to start the year than by evaluating your Financial Wellness and learning tips to protect the money you have spent most of your life earning and saving.  Join us for an event focused on Senior Financial Wellness on January 14 from 6 - 7:30 p.m. and enjoy some fun refreshments.

At our Senior Financial Wellness event, we will discuss: preparing for the unexpected (including ensuring you have a proper power of attorney & living trust in place); ways to protect your life savings from creditor attack and to avoid falling victim to fraud; and ways to plan, track and manage your money, both now and in the future.

This event, hosted by The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. is for clients and their friends who would like to learn more about Senior Financial Wellness.  Join us for this informative session on January 14 and enjoy fun refreshments while learning how to get a jump on some of those financial New Year's resolutions you'll be making!!

 Click to RSVP for this event or call 703-691-1888.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Part 2: Upcoming Changes in the DSM-5 Spark Major Controversies

Yesterday, we reported about the changes to the criteria and categories of Autism Spectrum Disorders that are planned for the DSM-5. 
Other changes in the DSM-5 include:

•    A new diagnosis for severe recurrent temper tantrums – Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD). Some critics say this new diagnosis will cause some children who have normal temper tantrums to be labeled with this new mental disorder. Those supporting the new diagnosis say it will address concerns about too many children being misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and then treated with unnecessary psychiatric drugs. Bipolar disorder involves sharp mood swings and children with this disorder are often very irritable and have explosive tantrums.  Do you have a family member with DMDD or another mental disorder?  Read more about our Special Needs Planning and how we can help you.
•    Eliminating the term "gender identity disorder." This term has been used for those who strongly believe that their bodies were born of the wrong gender. Those supporting the change feel the condition isn't a disorder and say calling it a disorder is stigmatizing. The term will be replaced with "gender dysphoria," which means emotional distress over one's gender. Supporters say the change is similar to removing homosexuality as a mental illness in the DSM, which was done decades ago. We here at The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. have strategies in place to help LGBT elders and their family members. Visit our website at to find out more.  In addition, please refer to our recent LGBT Article for information about how we can help LGBT couples. 

Make it your New Year’s resolution to learn how the Fairfax Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. can help your family prepare for whatever the future has in store.  Make an appointment for a free consultation at 703-691-1888.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Upcoming Changes in the DSM-5 Spark Major Controversies – Part I

If you have a family member with autism, you have likely heard of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).   The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association and it is the primary manual used by clinicians to provide a formal diagnosis of autism and related disorders. 

The 4th edition of the DSM has been under revision for several years and a new edition, the DSM-5, will be released in 2013.  This is the first major rewrite of the DSM in nearly 20 years.  According to an Associated Press Article, the aim is not to expand the number of people diagnosed with mental illness, but to ensure that affected children and adults are more accurately diagnosed so they can get the most appropriate treatment.

Significant changes are being made:

  • Changes to the criteria and categories of Autism Spectrum Disorders are planned for the new edition. One of the most hotly debated changes is that the separate diagnostic labels of Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, and PDD-NOS will be replaced by one umbrella term “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” 
  • Further distinctions will be made according to severity levels.  The severity levels (levels 1, 2, and 3) are based on the amount of support needed, due to challenges with social communication and restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. 
  • The revisions have been made with the hope that the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders will be more specific, reliable, and valid.  Despite these positive hopes, serious concerns have been raised regarding how these changes might impact people on the spectrum. One of the biggest concerns is that some who are higher functioning will no longer meet the more strict diagnostic criteria and will therefore have difficulties accessing relevant services.  Click here for an article explaining the rationale behind the changes.  Click here or here for articles giving reasons opposing the change.  

We here at The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., know that the majority of American families who have a loved one with special needs require a Special Needs Trust.  A Special Needs Trust is a vehicle that provides assets from which a disabled person can maintain his or her quality of life, while still remaining eligible for needs-based programs that will cover basic health and living expenses.  Read more about Special Needs Trusts here.  We also invite you to make an appointment for a free consultation with the Fairfax Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. to learn more about special needs planning.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rule change for V.A. Pensions and Pensions with Aid & Attendance

The Veterans Administration has tightened restrictions on the room and board a veteran may deduct from income when applying for V.A. pensions and pensions with Veterans Aid & Attendance benefits.  

For applications pending or submitted on or after October 26, 2012, room and board at a residential facility may be deducted as an unreimbursed medical expense, only if the facility provides the applicant with custodial care (assistance with two or more activities of daily living). The presence of 24-hour staffing and pull cords is insufficient to qualify a facility as a provider of custodial care. The new rule will propel many veterans over the income cap, disqualifying them from receiving benefits.

Ongoing changes and federal belt-tightening will make benefits more difficult to secure in the future.  Evan H. Farr is an Accredited Attorney with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs who understands the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and the Medicaid program and the interaction between both benefit programs. Mr. Farr works with client’s to obtain the financial assistance to which they are entitled and enables veterans and their spouses afford the care that they need.

If you are a Veteran or spouse of a Veteran and you need assistance, be sure to make an appointment for a free consultation at the Fairfax Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C..  We can work with you to evaluate if you qualify for Medicaid and/or The Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and for help you file the paperwork. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Human Rights Week is December 10-17: Focusing on LGBT Elders

Human rights are the fundamental rights which every living person is entitled to, and are considered to be universal rights or laws regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. President Obama proclaimed this week, December 10-17, as Human Rights Week to encourage greater awareness of human rights and promote fairness and equality.
In light of Human Rights Week, today we will focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) elders and the struggles that they face.  Several federal programs and laws blatantly treat same-sex couples differently from married heterosexual couples.  For example:
  • Social Security pays survivor benefits to widows and widowers but not to the surviving same-sex life partner of someone who dies.  This may cost LGBT elders $124 million a year in unaccessed benefits.
  • Married spouses are eligible for Social Security spousal benefits, which can allow them to earn half their spouse's Social Security benefit if it is larger than their own Social Security benefit. Unmarried partners in lifelong relationships are not eligible for spousal benefits.
  • Medicaid regulations protect some assets and homes of married spouses when the other spouse enters a nursing home or long-term care facility; no such protections are offered to same-sex partners.
  • Surviving spouses in heterosexual marriages don't have to pay taxes on their deceased spouse's estate, while surviving spouses in a same-sex marriage must pay a 35% estate tax on anything in excess of the $5 million exemption (in 2012- Read more about the proposed 2013 Estate Tax Changes).  **The Supreme Court recently announced it will accept two cases involving married same-sex couples from New York and California.  The couple from New York had to pay an estate tax because the federal Defense of Marriage Act defines “marriage” as a union between a man and a woman.  The California case involves California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages in the state.  Read the New York Times Article. 

We here at The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. have strategies in place to help LGBT elders and their family members. Visit our website at to find out more.  With advance planning, each person, regardless of sexual orientation, can retain the benefit of the money, income and assets it has taken a lifetime to accumulate.

P.S. We invite members of the LGBT community to make an appointment for a free consultation with The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. to learn more about our services. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

States Must Expand Medicaid All the Way if They Want to Receive Full Affordable Care Act (ACA) Funding

After months of waiting for an answer about partial expansion of Medicaid, states received a reply from the Obama administration that if they partially expand Medicaid coverage, they will not receive the enhanced funding that would come with a full expansion.

The Health and Human Services Secretary wrote a letter to governors Monday about the Medicaid expansion and other aspects of the health care law and included a question-and-answer document touching on details.  There is no deadline for states to decide on the Medicaid expansion, and they can join at any time.

States can still seek partial Medicaid expansions under pre-ACA (also known informally as Obamacare) rules, but would receive less federal money.  The federal government pays an average of 60% of the costs for people already eligible for Medicaid and the states pay the rest.  The health care reform law may allow states to obtain the higher federal funding starting in 2017 but only as part of comprehensive overhaul of a state's health care system that must cover at least the same number of people as the ACA at the same cost to the federal government and to patients.  Read the Washington Post Article.
Taking the partial Medicaid expansion off the table could encourage more states to take the federal money and offer new Medicaid benefits to everyone eligible under health care reform. According to Jocelyn Guyer, the co-executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, "Most states are going to look at this and eventually decide it's a good, smart investment for them to do the expansion."

We here at The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. help clients ever day with Medicaid eligibility, and are delighted to share this encouraging news about the expansion of the Medicaid program. If you have a loved one currently in a nursing home, or who may need nursing home care in the near future, or who is worried about the possibility of needing nursing home care in the not too distant future, please call us today.  Medicaid and Medicaid Asset Protection are our firm’s specialties, and we will be thrilled to discuss Medicaid with you at any time.  Please call us at 703-691-1888 to learn more.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The “Fiscal Cliff” and What it Means for Medicare

Medicare was established in 1965, providing health insurance for people 65 and older, regardless of income or medical history.  Throughout their working lives, people pay into Medicare based on the assumption that they will have secure health coverage when they retire.

Before Medicare, an estimated 50% of seniors had no health insurance, due to lower incomes and poverty among seniors and the higher premiums charged by private insurers for those over 65.  Since its inception, Medicare has reduced the poverty rate and has helped extend the life expectancy of retirees.  According to Bloomberg News, “Republicans favor a plan to raise the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67, a move that could save more than $100 billion but have other cost-raising consequences.”

Lawmakers on both sides agree that somehow reining in the cost of Medicare for the elderly and disabled is key to settling the budget problem. In the fiscal cliff negotiations, Obama and politicians of both big business parties claim there is “no money” for Medicare and other social programs. Americans are living longer. Chronic diseases are more common. The cost of medical care is rising in general with more drugs and innovations in treatment available.  Read the entire Bloomberg News Article.

We here at The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. urge you to plan for these budget cuts. Many seniors what are affected may be eligible for other health-care programs, such as Medicaid.  Call 703-691-1888 and set up a free consultation to learn more.

Friday, December 7, 2012

An Uncertain Tax Environment, and Medicaid Laws, Make it Tough to Plan Charitable Giving in 2012

With 2013 almost upon us, now is the time to act for matters like planning for your estate and gifts to loved ones.  Depending upon your goals and hopes for the coming year, it might still be time to wait when it comes to charitable gift planning.

If you’re one of the tiny percentage of folks who have several million dollars sitting around that you don’t need, you may want to give big now because the charitable gift tax write-off currently set at $5 million is scheduled to drop to $1 million next year.  But for most of us, given ever-present threat of needing future nursing home care, it's a good idea to hold off on gifting.

When it comes to charitable giving, we here at The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., urge those people who may need nursing home care in the next ten years to keep in mind that gift giving can be a risky venture.  When making charitable gifts, be mindful that any large gifts was made within the last five years will be penalized by Medicaid because Medicaid assumes that all gifts are intended to spend down assets to qualify for Medicaid.

For more information about gifting and Medicaid eligibility, read “Medicaid: The Perils of Gifting FAQ” on The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. website.