Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mystery Solved? The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh

Pulitzer prize-winning authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith have filled in the sketchy details of Vincent Van Gogh's life, art, and death in their newly-released book Van Gogh: The Life. CBS investigative reporters spoke with the authors about their literary works and those of Vincent Van Gogh:


Financial Peace of Mind: Feng Shui Your Assets

Seems like today if you are looking for peace of mind, our popular culture will quickly direct you to such sources as Zen meditation, rolfing, crystals, or some such mystical source.

A recent article in Forbes suggested several steps for achieving financial peace of mind via feng shui. These basic areas to consider included:

• Bones: The physical structure of your assets. Reorganize, consolidate, and/or close various accounts.

• Breath: How your accounts are arranged and the way your assets flow between them. Consider creating automatic arrangements between accounts.

• Head: The purpose of your money. Create a clear purpose for your money by creating new accounts or separating money from one account into another.

• Heart: How you personally feel about your money (e.g. confused, vigorous, tired). Research companies more in line with your personal philosophy to keep your accounts.

For more information on applying the principles of feng shui to assets, see Mindy Crary, Feng Shui Your Money, Forbes, Oct. 12, 2011.


New Tool Kit Unveiled to Protect Seniors from Con Artists

A new effort to educate seniors on how to protect them themselves from financial abuse and scams has been published by the National Council on Aging (NCOA).

The new toolkit – Savvy Savings Seniors: Steps to Avoid Scams - is produced in partnership with the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER), and the Bank of America Charitable Foundation.

The toolkit is the second in the Savvy Saving Seniors financial education series, following the release of a guide on money management skills earlier this year.

In addition to offering typical scam scenarios, the toolkit includes step-by-step instructions for professionals to facilitate a workshop with older clients, and a list of signs for caregivers and family members to look for when concerned about their loved one.

The Savvy Saving Seniors toolkits are part of a larger initiative between NCOA and the Bank of America Charitable Foundation to provide one-on-one financial assistance to over 1,200 older adults experiencing economic distress over the next year.

The National Council on Aging is a nonprofit service and advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, DC. NCOA’s mission is to improve the lives of millions of older adults, especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged. | |

The Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement is a nonprofit organization established in 1996 dedicated to the education and advocacy that will improve the long-term financial quality of life for women. As the only organization to focus exclusively on the unique financial challenges that women face, WISER supports women’s opportunities to secure adequate retirement income through research, workshops, and partnerships.


L'Oreal Heiress Placed Under Guardianship and Appeals

A French judge declared L’Oreal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt, incompetent and granted control of Bettencourt’s financial affairs to her only child, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, and grandsons, Jean-Victor and Nicolas. Here is the report from The Huffington Post:

See L’Oreal Heiress Bettencourt Under Family Guardianship, BBC News, Oct. 17, 2011; Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Europe's Richest Woman, Lilian Bettencourt, Declared Incompetent, Forbes, Oct. 17, 2011; Jessica Misener, L’OreaL’Oreal Heiress Liliane Bettencourt Loses Control of Her $23 Billion Fortune, Huffington Post, Oct. 18, 2011.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

What is an SNT?

What is a Special Needs Trust? Public benefits provide a safety net to people who are unable to provide for their own care and maintenance due to circumstances beyond their control, such as catastrophic accidents or illnesses. No one wants to be on public benefits. Most of the people who do depend on public benefit programs do so because they require long-term care and medical expenses. However, public benefits provide limited programs. Government funding is not limitless. These programs’ limits create a need to maximize recipients’ private funds while maintaining access to public benefits in order to improve the quality of life of disabled persons or their dependents.

Special Needs Trusts, aka Supplemental Needs Trusts, can be used when a person knows that he or she will become unable to continue the care and support of a dependant. The individual may be a parent of a disabled adult or child who is dependent upon the parent for financial support or care. Or, the person may be concerned that a spouse will be left destitute when that individual is no longer able to work and provide for the spouse. A Special Needs Trust enables qualification for public benefits while preserving assets for the use and benefit of others, such as spouses and disabled dependants.

Who needs a Special Needs Trust? People who have been injured or diagnosed with a chronic debilitating disease worry they will become dependent upon public benefits in order to live. A Special Needs Trust may preserve assets for use to improve the quality of their lives.

At times, disabled individuals sue defendants to recover damages for illness or injury, and their litigation attorneys seek to maintain the proceeds from personal injury suits in the face of staggering medical care costs. In these cases, medical expenses incurred by a plaintiff in a tort suit may force the disabled person to exhaust all personal resources and cause the person to seek public benefits such as Medicaid to help pay for necessary treatment. During the pendency of the litigation all costs of treatment will be covered by the Medicaid program. However, upon the receipt of the settlement/award, the client will lose Medicaid eligibility, and proceeds from the settlement may consumed by huge medical expenses.

In the scenarios above, the ultimate goal of the special needs trust planning is to lawfully secure ‘extras’ while maintaining Medicaid eligibility directly or by qualifying for Supplemental Security Income benefits.

Why is SSI important? SSI is a key to the more important benefits of the Medicaid program. Texas is one of 31 states known as "1634" states. This is the section of the Social Security Act that authorizes Texas to provide Medicaid eligibility to any recipient of SSI benefits. 42 U.S.C. sec. 1383c. A disabled person qualifying for SSI is said to be a “categorically needy” person and as such automatically qualifies for Medicaid benefits in the community. The determination of eligibility for SSI is made by the Social Security Administration and upon receiving eligibility for SSI the applicant is likewise eligible for Medicaid.

Who can help? For more information on Special Needs Trusts attorneys, consult: the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys at and the Academy of Special Needs Planners at


Special Kids & Special Needs Trusts

Parents of special needs kids are often not worried about themselves, but they are deeply concerned with how their disabled child may be cared for and maintained when they, the parents themselves, are gone. Sometimes these parents or grandparents will have spent their entire adult lives caring for the needs of a child or disabled adult who has been totally dependent upon them. Elderly individuals may be faced with not only their own catastrophic disease or illness, but they need an estate planning vehicle for providing for their disabled child or loved one.

In these cases, a Special Needs Trust can help. Often the disabled child will already be a recipient of SSI benefits and Medicaid because the disabled child was unable to work for a living due to the disabling condition. The disability may be such that the child will need extensive and costly medical treatment forever. Maintaining eligibility for the Medicaid benefits to cover these medical costs is critical.

Funds available to the parent for care and welfare of the child may be modest, and they might only provide for payment of the medical expenses for a short time. A Supplemental Needs Trust can provide funds for things that the public benefit programs will not provide as well as preserving Medicaid eligibility so that the money is not consumed by expensive medical care. What? Yes, that’s right. A properly drawn Special Needs Trust allows for the lawful qualification for public benefit programs, preservation of assets, and the distribution of these special ‘goodies’ from the trust that would enhance the quality of the disabled child or adult’s life. These ‘goodies’ could include: education, recreation, counseling, medical attention beyond the simple necessities of life. Specifically, things like summer camp, airline tickets for travel, electronic video games, or a television are the little luxuries and comforts that public benefits do not provide.

Special Needs Trusts are set up to comply with all state and federal law. Commonly, they are run by a family member, a trustee (like a bank), or a nonprofit pooled trust. Great care is taken in the choice of appropriate trustees to manage all trust assets, to deal with future replacement appointments, and to comply with all reporting and tax requirements. The trustee’s goal is to make lawful disbursements from the trust that will improve the quality of the beneficiary’s life without disqualifying the beneficiary from SSI or Medicaid. For more information on Special Needs Trusts, see the websites for: the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys at and the Academy of Special Needs Planners at


Monday, October 10, 2011

Important Medicare Dates & Resources

Medicare has new schedules for making coverage choices. Here’s what you need to know, and if you have questions, some resources for additional information:

October 1-14, 2011: During these two weeks, private insurers announce all benefit and premium information for their Part C Medicare Advantage and Part D Prescription Drug Plans for the coming year. This is your opportunity to see what might change with your current coverage and whether other policies might be better for you.

October 15-December 7, 2011: This is the Annual Election Period. It is the time each year you can change or enroll in new part C Medicare Advantage or Part D Prescription Drug Plan. If you make a change,new coverage will start January 1.

January 1-February 14, 2012: This is the Annual Disenrollment Period. During this time, you can disenroll from your Part C Medicare Advantage Plan and return to Original Medicare. If you choose to do so, you are allowed to choose a separate Medicare prescription drug plan at the same time. It becomes effective the first of the following month.

February 15-October 14, 2012: Most people cannot change their Medicare coverage during this “Lock-In” period. Exceptions include if you’ve:

Just turned 65
Moved out of your current plan’s service area
Lost your employer health coverage
Entered a nursing home
Involuntarily lost your prescription drug coverage.

Got questions? Here are a few resources:

Medicare at

State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP) Every state offers one-on-one help from trained advisors. Find contact information at: or

Alamo Service Connection sponsored by Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) or (210)477-3275, 1-800-960-5201

Children of Aging Parents (CAPS)

Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA) or 1-860-456-7790


Saturday, October 8, 2011


Birthdays mean getting to drive, getting to vote, and getting to drink (legally). But after turning 21 and especially after turning 29 (over and over again), birthdays lose some of their luster. However, beginning at age 59, there are several key birthdays that can affect your legal status, taxes, health-care eligibility, and retirement benefits. Consider the gifts of time:

59: You may start taking penalty-free withdrawals from IRAs and qualified retirement plans—providing that certain conditions are met. Ordinary income taxes generally apply to these distributions. (Withdrawals taken prior to age 59 are generally subject to a 10 percent federal income tax penalty).

62: You are eligible to start collecting Social Security benefits, but your benefit will be reduced by up to 30 percent. To receive full benefits, you must wait until “full retirement age,” ranging from 65 to 67, depending upon the year that you were born.

65: You are eligible to enroll in Medicare. Medicare part A Hospital Insurance benefits are automatic for those eligible for Social Security. Part B benefits are voluntary and have a monthly premium. To get coverage as early as possible, enroll about two to three months before turning 65.

70: You should start taking minimum distributions from most tax-deferred retirement plans or face a 50 percent penalty on the amount that should have been withdrawn.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Autumn & Medicare Changes

With autumn come plans for Thanksgiving, the Christmas holidays, and the New Year. It is also time to reflect on critical decisions that may affect your health and finances.

For those aged 65 and above, Medicare's annual open enrollment period is coming up. If you are enrolled in Medicare, this is your chance to make unrestricted changes to coverage. Or you might leave your coverage the same, after a careful review of the pros and cons.

Do you want to stick with Original Medicare? Would you prefer to switch to a private Medicare Advantage Plan? If so, which one? Would you be better served by dropping your current drug plan and switching?

Be aware of these new developments:

The period to make insurance decisions has been moved to Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. (Last year, it was from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31).

Drug plan enrollees will get a 50% discount on brand name drugs when they hit the donut hole, or coverage gap. In 2012, your discount on generic drugs will go up to 14%, from 7% in 2011.

In 2012, Medicare Advantage plans will offer preventive care services for free.
Take away: Read your Annual Notice of Change, sent by your insurance company to your mail box at home. Read it over carefully. Plans make changes to benefits — and costs — every year. Understand the changes to your benefits and how much they will cost you.

You might need to do some additional research online or by calling your insurance company to see if your current plan still suits your needs.

GOT QUESTIONS? GET SOME FREE COUNSELING. Here are a few resources to start with:
Medicare:; 1-800-MEDICARE
Medicare Rights Center:; 1-800-333-4114
The State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP): A national program that offers one-on-one counseling and assistance to people with Medicare and their families.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Advanced Directives 101

Avoid being adrift in a medical emergency. Have Advance Directives in place.

What is an advance directive? Documents that help people communicate their wishes if they are unable to make wishes known due to illness or injury. Three types of advance directives: medical power of attorney; out-of-hospital Do Not Resuscitate Order; Directive to physicians, family or surrogate decision-makers.

A Medical Power of Attorney:
Gives another named person the authority to make medical decisions about health care issues if the individual is no longer capable of making them, personally.
Does not apply to voluntary inpatient psychiatric care or other medical procedures such as: convulsive treatment, psychosurgery or abortion. A physician must comply with the wishes stated in the medical power of attorney or allow or arrange for the transfer of the patient to another health provider who will comply.

An Out-of-hospital Do Not Resuscitate Order does the following:
Allows for a natural death with peace and dignity in an outpatient setting
Must use the state of Texas’s mandated form
Requires 2 witnesses or 2 physicians (read and follow the form’s instructions carefully)
Applies to CPR, transcutaneous pacing, defibrillation, advanced airway management, and artificial ventilation
Applies to emergency rooms, outpatient hospital care, physicians’ offices and clinics
Does not apply to inpatient care. The DNR must be rewritten.
What? A DNR could be effective in the Emergency Room; however, the same patient could be put on full code after admission to the hospital. A DNR does not translate to hospital care.

An Advanced Directive to Physicians or “Living Will” does the following:
Tells what kind and how much life-sustaining medical treatment an individual wishes in the event of a terminal condition or irreversible condition.

An advance directive may be revoked by the individual at any time, regardless of mental status or competency. Simply put, the individual may change his or her mind.

If there are no advance directives, Texas law allows for relatives to make medical decisions. Any such decision must be in keeping with the previously communicated wishes of the patient, if the wishes are known.

Make your wishes known. Contact an elder law attorney and have your estate planning documents prepared, so that your medical care decision-making will not be left to others, not knowing what you would have wanted, leaving them at sea during an emergency.


Texas Guardianships: The Steps

Guardianship is a legal process to protect an incapacitated individual from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Guardianship provides for the person's care and management of assets.

The individual who needs to be protected is called a "ward." The person who is court-appointed to assist the ward is called a "guardian." There are two types of guardians.

A Guardian of the Person takes care of the physical well-being of a ward, and a Guardian of the Estate takes care of a ward's property. A guardian is appointed by a judge after a legal proceeding. Often both a guardian of person and a guardian of estate are appointed, and this may be the same person.

The steps involved in becoming a court-appointed guardianship include:

Filing an application with the court requesting that a qualified guardian be appointed.

Serving the application to the proposed ward.

Notifying the proposed ward's relatives.

Obtaining a physician’s statement on nature and degree of the proposed ward's incapacity.

Holding a hearing before a judge to determine whether a guardianship is necessary.

Qualifying the guardian, taking an oath, and receiving letters of guardianship.

Guardianships may be contested by the ward or another individual.

Guardianships may be temporary, in an emergency. These are intense, quick, and limited guardianships.

Guardianships are often permanent. They are 'permanent,' but the court reviews them annually to safeguard the care and rights of the ward.


About Lisa C Smith

Attorney Lisa C. Smith believes that many legal problems can be resolved by working out agreements, legal documents, and creative solutions for businesses and families. Her goal is to provide quality legal representation with personal service and respect.

Read more at Lisa C. Smith's website.

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Call for a consultation today at 210.863.7472

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