This Memorial Day weekend we’ll be remembering the many men and women of valor who gave everything for our freedom and peace, particularly our ancestors. We hope you’re also able to take some time to reflect.
We strive to make this newsletter timely, but in some cases we make exceptions. Though the Veterans Administration (VA) implemented the changes outlined at the link above back in October of 2018, we realized recently that even if the changes are old news to us, they aren’t to everyone else. Given the spirit of the weekend, a brief overview of the changes seemed in order.
For those unfamiliar with the VA’s Aid and Attendance benefit, it is important to know two things: (1) the VA offers this benefit to wartime veterans and their surviving spouses to help pay for their regularly recurring unreimbursed medical expenses; and (2) in the years leading up to 2018 the benefit became one of the most popular federal programs available for assisting veterans and their surviving spouses to pay for the cost of care in assisted living communities—so popular that the program’s regulators decided changes to the rules for qualification were necessary to ensure the benefit is not abused. Without dragging you into the weeds of federal regulations, here are the basic changes the VA made to the program last year:
1. A more precise definition of assets and deductible medical expenses;
2. The imposition of a bright line asset limit requirement (currently approximately $124,000); and
3. The imposition of a penalty period for claimants who make gifts above the asset limit requirement within the three years prior to making application for the benefit.
Taken together, these changes make the Aid and Attendance benefit both easier and harder for claimants to qualify for. Easier because the rules are now clarified such that claimants can better know before applying whether they will be approved, and harder because transfers of assets made within three years before applying will now present a barrier to qualification.
A few years ago we became involved in litigation brought by a woman against her 91 year old father. She was asking a judge to take away her father’s legal authority over his financial affairs—not because he was unable to manage on his own (he lived independently, navigated and drove himself to appointments, and balanced his own checkbook), but because he had been sending large sums of his money to Jamaica every month on the instructions of a mysterious caller who would tell him that by wiring his funds to a foreign country he would be able to collect a sweepstakes prize of several million dollars. By the time his daughter caught on and brought the legal action, she estimated that her father had sent over $20,000 to Jamaica and gotten nothing in return. Her intent in bringing suit against her father wasn’t to take over his life, but to stop the exploitation.
While we wish we could say that this tale is unusual, as Elder Law attorneys we know it's not. Authorities estimate that older adults are swindled out of billions every year through scams that younger persons seem to be able to identify and avoid. The story linked above indicates that medical researchers are taking notice that adults of advanced ages tend to be more susceptible than others to this loss of spidey-sense, and are beginning to study why. We can only hope that their efforts are successful and these sad stories of scammed seniors cease too.
While unconnected on the surface, both of these news items are personal to us. We’ve assisted family members to qualify for the VA's Aid and Attendance benefit and helped protect the spouses of friends from financial exploitation through litigation. A newsletter isn’t the forum for telling our personal stories, but we do want you to know that these personal connections drive our passion to send it to you and, more importantly, to help anyone you refer to us.