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...

Medicare, why you need more than Part A and B

  Medicare costs jumped 3.4% last year. Drug prices gained a whopping 11%. Medicare parts A&B does not cover prescriptions and the gap between what it does cover and your out of pocket expenses could break you. Last week, while walking Titus, our Chocolate Lab, I bumped into a fellow dog walker. I’ll call him Abe. Abe is retired and on a tight budget. In an effort to save money, he elected not to acquire drug prescription insurance called Medicare Part D. “After all,” he explained, I’m in my late seventies and aside from aspirin and the occasional antibiotic for the flu, I’ve been drug-free for as far back as I can remember”. Until now– Abe has just been diagnosed with diabetes and is required to take self-injected drugs several times a week in his stomach for the illness. That works out to $39.95/day for the rest of his life. It could happen to you when you least expect it and can’t afford it. Medicare Part D is offered by private insurance companies that are approved by Medicare. Every plan has what is called a “formulary.” A formulary is simply a list of drugs each plan will cover. The insurer will charge you a premium per month and most have an annual deductible you must meet before the insurance kicks in. You need to do your research because what drugs and how much you pay for it will vary from plan to plan. It’s called a “Tier” system where some insurers don’t carry a specific drug or only the generic version of it. Others may reimburse you differently, depending...

Trump’s tweets continue a presidential tradition

“Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!” “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”                                                             Tweets attributed to Donald Trump Over the past week or so, Donald Trump has taken aim at two companies, the entire health sector, and a union boss. The media and the financial community are in an uproar over his statements. Should they be? Actually, ‘jaw-boning’ industry and labor is a time-honored tradition among America’s leaders. Some presidents have done much worse. The fact that president-elect Donald Trump is using social media is about the only thing new in bashing the private sector. The stock market, however, is acting like this is a blatant and irrational act by someone in power; not so. Consider Theodore Roosevelt’s actions at the turn of the Twentieth Century. “Teddy,” young, brash and every bit as outspoken as “The Donald” in his own way, tangled with none other than the all-powerful, John D. Rockefeller, whose company was supplying 90% of America’s oil. It took years, but Roosevelt, the first president to take on Big Oil, managed to break up the Standard Oil Company in 1911.Since then a long line of presidents have challenged various oil companies and their managements with varying success. This week’s vow by Trump to “control drug prices” in a Time Magazine interview sent pharmaceutical and biotech stock prices down 2% or more. This caused a chorus of complaints from investors. But it isn’t the...

The Affordable Care Act won’t go away

Throughout the presidential campaign, our president-elect, Donald Trump, bashed Obamacare at every opportunity. But don’t assume that just because he doesn’t like it in its present form, it’s the end of America’s first attempt at solving our universal health care issue. “Its gotta go,” said Trump, during a CNN interview during the presidential campaign. He promised to “repeal and replace it with something terrific.” If those words have filled you with dismay, they shouldn’t, because even the creator of the healthcare act, Barak Obama, warned us at the outset that the first version of the legislation would need to be adjusted and changed. It wasn’t perfect six years ago and it isn’t now. Why am I so sure that Obama’s legacy will remain? It’s simple: the act brought over 20 million Americans into the health insurance net. That means that those same 20 million people won’t be showing up in the emergency rooms of the nation’s hospitals in the future without any visible means to pay for the health services they will desperately need. And if they can’t pay for them, who does? Well at first they become losses on the hospital ‘s books but they then deduct that from their taxes and by the time all is said and done, it’s you and me, the taxpayers, who will pay and pay dearly. And despite Trump’s and the Republican Party’s rhetoric, every one of them is well aware of that fact. But it goes even deeper. Even Trump sees the wisdom in insisting that insurers cover people with pre-existing health conditions. As a survivor of cancer, I am well-aware...

The VA–If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it

In the heat of presidential campaign rhetoric, the quality of care given to our veterans has become a popular topic. Needless to say, neither candidate has received care in a Veteran’s hospital and probably does not know anyone who has. Actually, few of us know anything at all about the Department of Veterans Affairs medical capabilities. Most Americans have never served in the military. Fewer still have ever been inside a VA facility, and if they have, it was to see a relative or friend. As such, our ignorance breeds a whole host of misunderstandings about how good or bad our veterans are being treated. Critics are quick to point to the 2014 scandal where some Veteran facilities were found to be denying care to service members and covering up those failures as well. But is that scandal enough to completely revamp an organization that has been serving our countrymen through countless wars? As a vet who has experienced VA medical treatment, I can tell you that I found my treatment both professional and given with a high degree of care. There are plenty of other veterans who have had the same experience.  But don’t take my word for it. There are at least 60 recent studies (since 2014) done by a variety of medical and other organizations. The results indicate that the care our Vets receive at VA facilities is comparable to (or superior to) that offered by private providers. In areas such as mental health, preventative care, outpatient processes and outcomes, VA treatment was superior to that received in the private sector, according to these studies. Their...

Health Savings Accounts are a good idea

Does your employer offer a health savings plan? Many do, especially if your company’s health insurance has a high deductible. If you aren’t taking advantage of it, you should and here’s why. Health Savings Accounts (HSA) were created as a way to help control rising health care costs. An HSA is an account, similar to a personal savings account or an IRA that you can open at work or on your own. Employers consider it a supplement to their high deductible employee health insurance plan (HDHP). How do you know if your health insurance plan qualifies as a high deductible? Usually HDHPs won’t start paying out until after you’ve spent at least $1,300 (individual) or $2,600 for a family in expenses with your own money. HSAs are used to pay for things your employer plan doesn’t cover. Qualified medical expenses such as co-pays, health plan deductibles and other non-insurance covered medical expenses such as dental and vision expenses. You—not your employer or insurance company—own and control the money in your HSA. The government and the health insurers believe that most people will spend their health care dollars more wisely if they’re using their own money. HSAs function somewhat like a 401(K) or 403(B) plan. You can make contributions from your paycheck on a pre-tax basis. Your employer can also match some percentage of your contributions. No matter how much you make, you can open a HSA plan. Even though you may have already maxed out all of your other available tax-deferred savings plans, you can still open a HSA. Health Savings Plans offer a triple tax advantage in an...