Author Archive

Dad (Mom), We Need to Talk

FEBRUARY 22, 2016 VOLUME 23 NUMBER 8

This week, a letter from Fleming & Curti, PLC attorney Amy Farrell Matheson, addressed to a father (not, as it happens, her father so much as your father):

Dad, we need to talk:

We love you and want the best for you. Over the past few months, we’ve noticed some things that are concerning to us. It makes us wonder if we should begin giving you some extra help around the house.

For example,

  • We have found late notices and even shut off notices from the electric company and the water company; this makes us worry that your bills aren’t getting paid on time. Your filing system was always so organized, but now we find papers jammed in every which way. It’s hard for us to tell what bills have been paid.
  • You and Step-Mom have always kept a lovely home, but now there are newspapers and unopened mail piling up, and the yard hasn’t been tended to. The refrigerator has expired and rotting food in it.
  • And your car has a scrape along one side that we don’t remember seeing before.

We respect your privacy and we understand that it’s important to you to manage your household as you see fit. If there are some things that we could do to help lighten the load, we would like to help.

It would help us if we had a better understanding of how your finances are arranged, so that if we needed to step in and help out, we could do so easily. For example, would you like one of us to arrange it so that we can view your banking accounts online? That would allow us to help you balance your checkbook and avoid bank fees for returned checks. We could help you arrange for automatic payments for utilities, rent/mortgage, and insurance, so that you aren’t having to pay late fees. We could remind you to take the required distribution from your IRA this year; you know there’s a penalty for that if you don’t.

One of us could help you prepare your income tax returns, or help you assemble the documents that you will need to take with you to the accountant.

We have been thinking about when Aunt Bertha fell and broke her hip, and how hard it was for her kids to figure out how to pay her bills while she was in the hospital. There was a lot of stress and some hurt feelings because none of the kids knew who was in charge. Everyone had a different idea of how to take care of Aunt Bertha. And the bank wouldn’t talk to any of the kids without a power of attorney. As uncomfortable as it might be for you to open up to us about these things, it would really be better to have a discussion about what you want, at a time when it isn’t an emergency situation.

We’ve been to see our lawyer to get our own estate plan updated. It reminded us that we know very little about what you’ve planned. For example, who would you want to speak for you, if you had a health emergency and the doctors needed information? Have you selected someone to handle your finances if you aren’t able to – have you prepared a durable financial power of attorney or a trust? Who is your attorney? Where should we look for copies of your estate planning documents if we needed them?

We’ve been to see our financial advisor for a “tune up.” It’s been a while since we took a hard look at our investments and our plans for retirement. Do you still have the same financial advisor you have been using for years? Are you happy with him or her? Do you have questions about how your money is invested?

We are so thankful that Step-Mom has come into your life. You were so sad when Mom died and it’s good to see you happy again. We want to respect the arrangements that you and Step-Mom have made, but we’re not certain what you are expecting from us, and what you have agreed with Step-Mom. If there were a medical emergency, who would speak for you? Step-Mom or one of us? Do you and Step-Mom have an agreement as to how you handle household expenses? Did you prepare a prenuptial agreement before you got married? Do the two of you have a trust? Do you have joint accounts, or do you keep your money separate?

What can we do to help you stay in your home as long as possible, and to be comfortable, safe — and happy — there?

Is a Veterans Administration Benefit Right for You?

APRIL 30, 2012 VOLUME 19 NUMBER 17
We were reminded recently of the existence of a resource for elderly veterans and their surviving spouses — one that is too often overlooked, as it happens. We had yet another client who was unaware that she might qualify to receive a Veterans Administration pension benefit. We have written about veterans benefits before, but it always surprises us to note how often potential applicants are unaware of the benefits they are entitled to receive.

To qualify, the veteran must have served 90 days or more of active duty, including a single day during a war time period. War time periods include the second World War, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, and Desert Storm, Desert Shield, and really any service in Afghanistan or Iraq from August, 1990 onward. The Department of Veterans Affairs helpfully maintains a list of the actual dates of “Periods of War” online.
The veteran must also have been honorably discharged (or at least, not dishonorably discharged) from his or her military service. Unlike other VA programs, there is no “service-connected” requirement for this particular benefit.

The benefit is available to veterans and their surviving spouse. If you are the surviving spouse, you must have been married to the veteran at the time of his or her death and can not have remarried since.  There is an asset test; to qualify, you may have family net worth of no more than $60,000 to $80,000, not counting the value of your home, car, and certain other items.

In calculating the amount of your pension benefit, the VA assesses your “countable monthly income.” Under this formula, any money you receive from Social Security reduces the amount of money you will receive from the VA.  Note, however, that you can reduce your “countable monthly income” by monthly unreimbursed medical expenses. These include such things as your Medicare premium, a dental insurance premium, a long term care insurance premium, prescription drugs, hearing aid costs, vision care costs, and expenses related to transportation to your doctor’s office.

Application forms are available at the Veterans Administration website, http://www.va.gov, or by calling 1-800-827-1000. The veteran’s application is form 21-256, widows use form 21-534, and the medical expense form is 8416.

The state of Arizona has created a department of Veterans Services to assist state residents in obtaining federal veterans benefits to which they may be entitled. A counselor will assist you in making the application. The Tucson office is located at 1661 N. Swan Road, Suite 128, Tucson, AZ 85712 and their telephone number is (520) 207-4960. You can also call the Phoenix office toll-free at 1-800-852-8387.

Wondering why no one has invited you to a free lunch to hear about this exciting benefit? VA rules state that anyone who assists you in completing this application can charge you no more than $10.00 for the service. That makes it hard to make a living explaining the benefit, unless your salary is paid by the federal or state government.

“Grandma, it’s me and I need your help.” Don’t Be Fooled By This Scam

APRIL 2, 2012 VOLUME 19 NUMBER 13
We have been hearing lately about a scam that targets seniors. You get a telephone call from a number you don’t recognize. When you answer, the person on the other line says: “Grandma, it’s me, and I need your help.” You learn that your grandchild has been detained by the police in another country – Mexico, or maybe somewhere in the Caribbean. Something about an auto accident, perhaps, and unfamiliar laws in the foreign country. Your grandchild needs you to wire him or her money to pay for bail.

Significantly, the grandchild pleads with you not to notify his or her parents, because they’ll be angry. If you note that the grandchild’s voice sounds different, he or she will say that the police broke his or her nose during the course of the arrest. If you ask for a phone number, so you can call back, you’re told that this is an outgoing number at the police station and it’s not possible to call back. There’s no way to contact your grandchild again. You are instructed to go quickly to the bank, withdraw an amount that is usually slightly less than $5,000.00 (any more will attract the government’s attention) and arrange for a wire transfer.

If you have grandchildren you probably love them dearly. We suspect that if you got a call from a grandkid in trouble, you’d spring into action. Any questions you might have about the truthfulness of what you’re being told would be superseded by the stress and anxiety of learning that your grandchild was in serious trouble and needed your help urgently.

We know of several instances lately of our clients (or the parents or other family members of our clients) being targeted by this kind of scam. In one case, the grandmother was at Walmart attempting to wire funds when the store clerk alerted her that this was likely a scam and that she should call the grandchild, or his parent, before wiring any money. In another instance, the scam was discovered earlier in the process because the grandmother was known to her family by a nickname, and not as “Grandma.”  She was immediately suspicious.  But, worryingly, in that case, the person on the other end of the line identified herself using the actual name of a real granddaughter.

Of course it is despicable of scammers to play on a grandparent’s love for their grandchildren. Worse yet, they frighten and alarm their elderly victims. Please, if someone tries to spur you to action by playing on your fears, stop, take a deep breath, and apply a little skepticism before you proceed any further.

Other than health skepticism, what can you do to protect yourself? If this happens to you, ask your caller to recall a pet’s name, or a family vacation spot, or something that only your actual grandchild would know. Be cautious, however — the sophistication of scammers has increased as private details become widely available on the internet. In one case, for example, police reported that the caller knew that the victim they were calling had an identical twin, and even that the victim was two minutes younger than her sister.

What if this happens to a family member? If money has been wired, immediately contact the transfer company. If it has already been picked up it is too late, but even if the money is gone at least the authorities will have one more piece of data to stop future scams and maybe even locate your scammer. Contact the FBI or its Internet Crime Complaint Center to file a report. Unofficial agencies like the Better Business Bureau also track scam information and may be able to make other suggestions.

Worried that something like this might happen to a vulnerable senior in your family? Start by locking down their internet vulnerability — scammers often use e-mail malware to collect information about potential victims. Make sure your family member’s internet use is protected. Caution them about social media — trusting seniors might be inclined to share too much sensitive and personal information online.

Make sure your family member knows to contact you before succumbing to a scammer’s pleas for confidentiality. Maybe you even want to adopt a family code word to signal that any caller is truly a family member. Please don’t inject unnecessary fear into your family member’s life, but make sure they have sufficient skepticism and the comfort to contact you or another family member no matter what a scammer might tell them.

Want to familiarize yourself with the kinds of scams working across the internet and through your neighborhood? Check out the Better Business Bureau’s “Scam Aggregator.” It might amaze, alarm and inform you all at the same time.

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