America’s road toward universal healthcare

The GOP’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was introduced this week. As one might expect, the Republican Party’s long-awaited plan was met with a firestorm of protests from just about every conceivable lobbying group. That’s exactly what one should expect, given that there is so much at stake. Headlines throughout the week warned that if the plan were passed in its present form, healthcare premiums could rise by 30% or more. Seniors could pay far more for coverage under the new plan, while between 6 million and 10 million people would lose their health insurance coverage altogether. The poor would get short shrift, while the wealthy would benefit most. The new plan dubbed “The American Health Care Act,” (if all goes as planned) will be rolled out in three phases under a budgetary process that would allow Republicans to pass the bill through a simple majority in the Senate. The problem is that although Republicans are unanimous on the need to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the party is divided in how to replace it. Readers might recall that after the landslide Republican victory in the general election, many Americans were worried that Obamacare would be abolished altogether. The doomsday crowd is convinced that the country’s health care insurance coverage will go back to the way things were prior to the ACA. I argue that it is too late for that. Regardless of what you may think of President Obama, he and the Democratic Party set this nation on a new course. It will, in my opinion, result in universal health care coverage for...

Markets are priced for perfection

What a week for stock investors! All the main averages and most of the minor indexes registered historic highs. No question, Donald Trump has been good for the markets. The question is when will investors begin to take profits? Calling a top (or a bottom) in the markets is notoriously difficult. Granted, over the years I have been lucky and managed to catch a turn or two once or thrice. As readers know, once we hit 2,330 on the S&P 500 Index, I expected and still do expect some profit-taking. That doesn’t mean you should panic nor do anything more than raise a little cash. My strategy is to re-employ that cash as we pull back. The timing of such a move is always more of an art than a science. Think of it as a process. Sell a little today, a little more tomorrow, and so on. I’m not looking for a big pullback, maybe 4-5%. After the market declines, use the same kind of technique to buy back stock. But don’t go overboard because I believe the Trump Rally still has legs. What, you might ask, has our new president accomplished in order to justify this on-going rally? Well, aside from a flurry of executive orders that have reversed some of the prior president’s executive orders, not very much. But it is what he has promised that has investors drinking the Kool-Aid. The litany of tax cuts, infrastructure spending, Obamacare overhaul and an end to onerous rules and regulations has given investors hope. Analysts and pundits are fueling those feelings by drawing up all sorts of ‘what-if’...

Pet trusts are the way to go

If you have been avoiding a visit to an estate planning lawyer, despite the pleading of your spouse, your kids or grandkids, consider this: your pet’s future well-being could be in jeopardy without a legal safeguard. As I wrote in my last column, new legislation is surfacing in a number of states that recognizes our concern for our pets. Even though we consider our pets part of the household, legally, your pet is not considered a human. Instead, they are considered tangible property and, generally speaking, tangible property cannot be named as a beneficiary of a trust. Many states, however, are allowing legally enforceable documents that can guarantee a pet’s continuing care. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have passed statutes specific to pet trusts, according to the Animal Law Review.  In Massachusetts, legislation was passed in 2011 to provide for pets’ welfare after their owners’ demise. “The definition of tangible personal property hasn’t changed,” explained Attorney Holly Rogers, an expert in the area, “but legislatures have recognized a compassionate exception when it comes to our pets.” The primary legal document required to safeguard your pet is a pet trust, according to Attorney Rogers: “It can be as simple as ‘I leave $20,000 to my sister, Betty, for the care of my cat, Fluffy’,” The pet trust can be a stand-alone document, inserted into your will, or worked into your existing revocable trust. And, as we have written in the past, everyone should have a will or trust anyway. A trust is especially important if minors or adults who can’t care for themselves are involved.  A trust allows...

The market stalls at record highs

  Stock market averages made another batch of new highs this week only to fall back in what may be buyer exhaustion. If the trend continues, investors may be looking at a 4-5% decline from here. It is too early to tell, because one day does not make a trend. We could easily experience a rebound next week, but I would still consider the present levels of most indexes ripe for a fall. My column last week pointed out that we are now in a “danger zone.” Sure, the markets could continue to grind higher but every additional point just sets us up for an overdue correction. Since all eyes and ears are on Washington, progress on President Trump’s agenda is dictating where the markets will trade. Every television appearance and tweet by President Trump simply adds to investor expectations. At this point, investors expect that tax cuts, a wholesale revamp of rules and regulations, plus a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure spending plan is just around the corner. It is not. For those of us who understand the pace of reform in the nation’s capital, it would be best to take a longer-term approach to Trump’s agenda. It appears, for example, that health care will be the first area our legislatures will be addressing this year. That does not mean that one day soon Congress will vote on a soup-to-nuts replacement of the Affordable Care Act. Instead, expect to see a flurry of piece meal changes over the course of many months. Lawmakers will attempt to address the failings of the present health system without disrupting those who are already...

What happens to your pet after your death?

If you are one of the 70% of the population that considers their pet a member of the family, you should review your estate planning documents. Otherwise, there is a good chance your pet will either end up in the pound, or worse. This hits close to home for many of us. If my wife and I were to die, for example, who would take care of our chocolate lab, Titus? There are few people who we would trust to take care of him. Compounding the problem is the fact that he is eight years old and suffers from arthritis. I discovered that simply putting some instructions in a will was neither legally binding nor particularly useful. Unless we do something different, Titus could be condemned to imprisonment and a life without love. You must understand that legally a dog, cat, horse or any other kind of pet is not considered a human being. They are considered your property. As such, Titus is our “property” and the law states that you can’t leave property to a piece of property. Therefore (until recently and only in some states) your pet can’t be a beneficiary in a will. Your instructions within a will are not enforceable. I might state that Bri (our dog whisperer) gets Titus in the event we pass, but a will cannot instruct Bri to care for the dog, take him to the vets, etc.  Don’t forget, too, that your will is not enacted immediately. All wills have a waiting period, sometimes months, even longer if it is contested.  Who is going to care for your pet in...