Having a last will and testament is something that every single person needs to have, regardless of how substantial or modest they feel their estate may be. This because a last will and testament does much more than spell out who receives what part of an estate. A last will and testament can and should go on to set out contingencies for many practical scenarios and life events that the average person can find himself or herself in.

First and foremost, a last will and testament allows individuals to direct portions of their estate to whomever they choose. When individuals pass away without a will it is known as intestacy and will be distributed according to the laws of the state where that person resides. Generally, this means that the deceased’s property will be distributed among his or her immediate family, regardless of what his or her final wishes would have been.

Once a person passes away, his or her estate will generally need to pass through probate court, known in New York as Surrogate’s Court. Without a last will and testament, this process can be more costly and time consuming than if the deceased had clearly expressed to the court his or her final wishes on how to divide the estate in question.

The odds are that most of us will end up caring for a relative or close friend at some point, helping to manage their health and wellness and even make important decisions to ensure that person lives a comfortable, dignified life. Whether these tasks include arranging transportation for doctor’s appointments, overseeing finances, performing chores, or helping hands on with hygiene, getting dressed, or meal preparation, caregivers come in all forms and play an important role in the lives of loved ones.

Statistically, long distance caregivers have an average age of 47 and nearly 70 percent are female. Almost all of them provide care to a close relative despite the challenges associated with long distance caregiving, more than half of them make visits at least once a week to the person they care for. Approximately 40-percent visit at least once a month.

Helping loved ones of friends who live close by can be challenging enough but when the person we are responsible for lives greater distances away, the challenges can included unique obstacles, including lengthy travel time, extra costs, an inability to attend medical appointments and questions about how to find help in a different state. Fortunately for these vital caregivers, there are a multitude of community-based resources to help make these tasks easier and help caregivers and their loved ones.

Authorities across the country are warning of new scams targeting elderly Social Security over the phone, where individuals claiming to be government representatives try to collect sensitive information under the guise of a computer glitch causing issues with benefits. The Social Security Administration has made it very clear that under no circumstances will it call or send emails to beneficiaries asking for personal information, such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth or other private information, and advises people to not respond to such messages.

Other scams include callers asserting that beneficiaries need to pay a fee to unlock their Social Security number because of criminal activity and will also need to confirm their Social Security number. The Federal Trade Commission recently confirmed an increase in this type of scam and beneficiaries should be on the lookout for this type of illicit activity.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network recently announced it has had more complaints to its helpline in the past few months from consumers targeted by Social Security impostors than the older IRS scams that harassed thousands, if not millions, of Americans since 2013. According to the office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, those IRS scams stole more than $73.6 million from almost 15,000 victims over the past five years.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently released a set of helpful guides to help individuals manage the financial affairs of loved ones or others who are unable to do so and require a fiduciary to take of such matters. The guides cover multiple topics to help fiduciaries, including how to spot financial exploitation and avoid scams as well as a “Where to go for help” section with a list of relevant resources for more information.

One of the guides included is “Help for agents under a power of attorney” which lists the four basic duties that fiduciaries with a power of attorney need to keep in mind when managing the affairs of another. Those include to act only in the beneficiary’s interest, manage the beneficiary’s property and money carefully, keep the money and property of the beneficiary and fiduciary separate, and to keep good records of all transactions.

Another helpful guide included in the series is “Help for court-appointed guardians of property and conservators” which someone the court names to manage money and property for someone else whom the court has found cannot manage it alone. This can also apply to instances where a fiduciary is named to act in the interest of another person as a guardian, managing that person’s healthcare and other personal decisions. Other times, a court may be appointed to manage the governmental benefits of an individual and the CFPB also provides outlines for these responsibilities too.

As of January 1, 2019, approximately 1.2 million seniors across will lose their SilverSneakers coverage on Medicare Advantage plans that give them access to gyms and health centers without any additional membership costs. The controversial business decision will affects plan holders in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, and Utah who have Medicare Advantage plans with UnitedHealthcare.

An additional 1.3 million seniors across nine states with Medicare Advantage plans with Medicare supplemental (Medigap) insurance will also lose their access to the SilverSneakers program. States affected by this move include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin. Although the benefits were optional with UnitedHealthcare, millions of seniors nonetheless took advantage of the option to visit gyms and fitness centers for exercise.

Beginning next year, UnitedHealthcare will instead offer seniors with Medicare Advantage supplemental policies will get 50 percent off memberships at thousands of gyms across the country, telephone access to wellness coaches and access to various online communities and health-related resources. Seniors with UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plans can join Renew Active, the company’s health and fitness program which offers a network of over 7,000 locations members can visit for no additional cost and even qualify for evaluations from personal trainers and online brain-training programs.

The Trump Administration recently announced its intention to give private Medicare plans the power to negotiate drug prices with insurance companies in hopes of lower the the costs of vital medicines that seniors rely on to live healthier lives. Currently, private Medicare health plans under Medicare Part D must cover all or “substantially all” drugs in six “protected” classes, such as HIV treatments, antidepressants and cancer drugs, regardless of cost.

The Administration’s stance is that because insurance companies are required by their agreements with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Studies (CMS) to fully cover these medications, there is little incentive for the pharmaceutical companies that produce these drugs to lower prices for consumers. Part of the proposal would allow health insurance plans to exclude some of the protected drugs that see prices increases beyond the pace of inflation and new formulations not considered a “significant innovation” compared to the original.

“The lack of any ability for Part D plans to manage drugs in the protected classes has allowed the pharmaceutical industry to command high prices on protected class drugs in Part D, without patients getting a good deal,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement.

New York City has seen a rapid increase in the number of individuals working as in home health aides as the city’s population continues to age. Unfortunately, many of these in home health service workers are older people themselves, earning low wages and relying on government services to survive as their own health continues to decline from performing hard work and aging.

Naturally, most seniors wish to preserve their independence and often turn to home health workers to perform cooking, cleaning, and other chores that may be more difficult at an advanced age. Home health workers are vital to the healthcare needs of seniors who do not need or wish to enter into a nursing home or other skilled care facility before it may be necessary or otherwise not cost feasible for any reason.

Experts studying the issue describe New York’s impoverished home health aides as a new underclass, often working long hours without prospects of  finding new and better paying work outside their current field. Sources calculate that some of these employees work for at little as $7 to $8 per hour, adding up to around $25,000 which does not even get close to a living wage in New York City.

Of the almost 60 million Medicare beneficiaries in the entire United States, nearly one-third of those individuals are covered by a Medicare Advantage Plan, an alternative to Medicare insurance offered by private companies contracting with the government and offering all Part A and Part B benefits. Federal officials estimate that number is expected to grow as high as 41 percent nationally over the next ten years but some states already see enrollment rates that high.

In states like California and Florida, Medicare Advantage plans are employing something known as global risk or full risk to help curb the skyrocketing costs of health care while creating financial incentive for providers to take the very best care they can of their patients. In those states, about half of Medicare Advantage plan members get care under the global risk model, compared to an estimated 10 percent nationally.

Under total risk arrangements, the insurance plan give health care companies the bulk of their Medicare funding when they take on the mantle of being financially responsible for all patient care. For the physicians groups, the arrangement means they get paid a large amount of money upfront for patient care and do not have to worry about billing issues or waiting for insurers to pre-approve medical procedures and treatments. Patients benefit by being able to spend more time with their doctors to get all the care they need and can usually get same day or next day appointments.

The White House recently issued new guidelines to states on acceptable alternative health care plans allowed under the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) that will allow states to apply for waivers and help shore up health care exchanges. Until now, such waivers were granted with so-called “guardrails” to ensure the waivers met at least the same coverage level as under the ACA.

By contrast, the new guidances issued by the White House allow states to loosen old guardrail requirements and allow healthcare plans that do not meet the coverage standards required under current federal law, including charging higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions. The change in policy is a victory for states with conservative legislatures which were unable to gain such waivers under the previous administration because the suggested plans did not meet federal requirements.

“States know much better than the federal government how their markets work. With today’s announcement, we are making sure that they have the ability to adopt innovative strategies to reduce costs for Americans, while providing higher quality options,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement.

When open enrollment begins for Medicare, many seniors across the country will notice an expanded range of health care plan options, including those offered by private insurance companies through Medicare Advantage. With more Americans than ever considering and signing up for these Medicare alternatives, more insurance companies than usual are selling more Medicare Advantage plans for 2019, some offering lower or no premiums and improved benefits.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Studies (CMS), an additional 14 new insurance companies will sell 3,700 plans for 2019, an estimated 600 more than offered to beneficiaries in 2018. CMS estimates that total enrollment for Medicare Advantage plans will grow to 23 million people in 2019, a 12 percent increase over the previous year and may grow to serve one-third of all Medicare enrollees in the next decade.

Medicare Advantage plans have been attractive to seniors due to the extra benefits these types of coverage options offer. Many of these private insurance plans can save seniors money because premiums, deductibles, and additional costs are lower than what beneficiaries pay with original Medicare offered by the federal government. One of the main downsides to Medicare Advantage Plans is that they require enrollees to seek care within a restricted network of health care providers.

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