Avoid Family Feuds With Good Estate Planning Hygiene

A recent visit to the dentist highlighted an important point to me: improper estate planning can have dire consequences for a family.  As she cleaned my teeth, my dental hygienist asked me what type of law Johnson & Associates had as its focus.  Once I referenced elder and estate law, her storytelling immediately began.  “Oh!” she exclaimed.  “I bet many people don’t realize what can happen if things aren’t properly set up.  We had a serious issue in my family.”

I made some sort of assenting sound as she continued to clean my teeth. 

“When she was alive, my grandmother did her estate planning documents and made my mom her executor,” the hygienist explained.  “We thought everything was fine and we didn’t bother to check.  Unbeknownst to us, my grandmother had made my aunt a ‘joint owner’ on her bank accounts, thinking that it would be good to have her daughter help her pay bills and expenses.” 

Apparently the grandmother didn’t realize that once she passed away, all of the monetary assets would immediately become sole property of the joint owner—not a part of the estate to be equally divided amongst her other children and beneficiaries.  Upon the grandmother’s passing, the joint owner daughter immediately cleaned out the accounts, claiming every last penny and causing quite a rift in the family.  My hygienist emphatically noted that “mother never spoke to her sister again.”   The hygienist herself decided to forgive her aunt, explaining that “life’s too short to hold on to anger,” although her own mother recently passed away without ever reconciling. 

Sadly, the situation which caused grief, anger, and feelings of betrayal for many members of this family is not uncommon.

With proper estate planning advice, the financial assets would have been distributed the way the grandmother had intended, and her family members could have remained on much more positive terms—leaving one less painful story for a dental hygienist to relate.

A Tribute to George H. W. Bush From His Son

Regardless of your political beliefs or leanings, we found this to be a timely and poignant message about love, life, and families.  It was published in the January/February 2019 AARP Bulletin:

A Tribute to George H. W. Bush From His Son

In December 2014, George W. Bush sat down with the AARP Bulletin and talked about his dad.  With the passing of George H. W. Bush late last year, his son’s words provide a warm look at a father’s wisdom.

On important lessons his father taught:

That unconditional love is liberating.  That life is to be lived to the fullest.  That defeat does not prevent victory.

On why he didn’t ask for advice while he was president:

Well, first of all, the best balm to the job is love, to hear his voice say, “Son, I love you.  I know what you’re going through.  Hang in there.  You’re doing a fine job.”

On visiting him in the hospital in 2012:

I told the girls we were going to stop by, but I don’t want Dad to see us weeping.  We weep a lot in our family.  And so we go in the ICU and Jenna and Barbara are rubbing his head, and he leans over and rubs Jenna’s stomach and says something along the lines of, “There is death and then there is the beauty of life.”  And Jenna was pregnant at the time, noticeably pregnant, and we wept.  It was a very sweet moment.

On coping with death and learning from setbacks:

You’re going to have setbacks.  The question is, how do they affect you?  In Dad’s case, it seemed to me that they made him stronger, more sympathetic, kinder.  I find it incredibly insightful that after the ’92 election, which stunned Dad a lot, he became very close to the man who beat him.  He was gracious and willing to reach out to Bill Clinton.  It’s an inspiring example of humility.

Preparing for Non-Medical Home Health Care Options, by Regina Ralston, M.Ed.

One of the issues facing caregivers is how to be open to asking for help when you need it.  That help can come in the form of family, friends, neighbors, professionals, and others.  Have you ever considered non-medical home health care options?  You and your loved ones can be greatly benefited by having a person come into your home to assist you with meals, laundry, bathing, or just being a companion.  But how do you choose a home health aide?  You have to pay attention when you are interviewing home care agencies and individuals.  Be aware that professional home care companies should be insuring their employees who come into your home.  Be sure to include this as one of your interview questions: is the person coming into your home covered by the company’s insurance?  Once that has been established, there are other questions you might consider asking.  Here is a small list:
          1.  How does the home care company find their employees and what are their hiring criteria?
          2.  Does the company do background checks and/or drug screening?
          3.  Are the aides certified in CPR or other health training?  You especially want to know if the health aide understands how to deal with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s if that is what your loved one has.
          4.  Can the aide help with lifting and transfers if necessary?  Can they help with bathing, dressing and toileting? 
          5.  How is the aide assessed by the company?
          6.  What happens when the regularly assigned aide cannot come to work on a particular day?
          7.  What happens if you are not satisfied with the care the aide is giving your loved one?  Can that aide be easily replaced?
          8.  How does the agency evaluate the quality of the home care the aide is giving?
          9.  Is there a supervisor assigned to an aide, and how is the aide supervised?
          I am sure you can come up with more questions.  Write them down and be sure to ask them of the agency when you are interviewing to see which agency suits your needs best.  Do your homework, and that will greatly assist you in your decision making.  Consider extra help over the holidays when there can be more events and even stressors for you. 

Please have a happy holiday season and enjoy these special days!


This article was written by Regina Ralston, M.Ed., from About Seniors Eldercare Placement Consultants, and is adapted and reposted here by permission.


Research Study in U.K. Finds Hearing Aids Slow Dementia by 75%

Wearing a hearing aid can slow the progress of dementia by up to 75 percent, according to a new study. Scientists believe that keeping older people engaged and active by adopting the devices can significantly reduce age-related cognitive decline.

A team of researchers followed the progress of 2,040 individuals between 1996 and 2014, asking them to complete word memory tests at various stages and monitoring the rate of decline before and after getting a hearing aid.

The research team found that while the aids did not halt or reverse cognitive decline, they slowed it down by 75%; meanwhile, in a separate group of 2,068 who underwent cataract surgery, decline slowed by around half. The team at the University of Manchester said the strength of the association between hearing aids, cataract surgery, and mental deterioration meant policy makers should consider hearing and sight loss screening for all older adults.

Dr. Piers Dawes said, "These studies underline just how important it is to overcome the barriers which deny people from accessing hearing and visual aids. It's not really certain why hearing and visual problems have an impact on cognitive decline, but I'd guess that isolation, stigma, and the resultant lack of physical activity that are linked to hearing and vision problems might have something to do with it. And there are barriers to overcome; people might not want to wear hearing aids because of stigma attached to wearing them, or they feel the amplification is not good enough or they're not comfortable.”

The new research was published in PLOS ONE and the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

(Article adapted/originally published by Henry Bodkin, Oct. 11, 2018, The Telegraph).


The Impact of Arizona Senate Bill 1204

Arizona statutes govern the transference of property from a deceased person to beneficiaries. Despite many similarities to this process in other states, Arizona has added its own nuances, and Arizona’s recently passed Senate Bill 1204 (Arizona 53rd Legislature, 2nd Regular Session), became effective on August 3, 2018.  The passage of this bill added some key revisions which impact the Arizona Probate and Trust Codes.

One significant Probate element which did not change was the rule that upon “issuance of a statement of informal probate, the applicant must within 30 days give written information to all heirs and devisees of the admission of the will to probate, together with a copy of the will” (ARS § 14-1304).  Further, an heir or devisee has “four months from the receipt of the information” to commence a formal testacy proceeding or to contest probate.

A few notable changes will have an impact on petitioner notice, no-contest clauses, and reporting by trustees.

Petitioner Notice:

Petitioner shall give notice by publication at least three times prior to hearing date in a newspaper having general circulation in the county of hearing, with the first publication occurring at least 14 days before scheduled hearing (ARS § 14-1401).

Prior to this change, the requirement called for one notice by publication.  Failure to publish in the proper amount and time frame will result in the delay of the hearing, until appropriate notice has been given.

No-Contest Clauses:

SB 1204 has added a section to Arizona Trust Code 14-10113 that makes no-contest clauses “unenforceable if probable cause exists for the contest, proceedings, or actions” brought by a petitioner.  This opens the door for a petitioner to contest a will or trust without penalty as long as there is probable cause.

Trustee Reporting Requirements:

Some of the phrasing in SB 1204 clarifies who is entitled to receive a trustee’s report. Not everyone who receives some form of distribution from a trust is considered a “qualified beneficiary” (ARS § 14-10813), and thus not everyone who receives some form of distribution is entitled to a report.

Furthermore, “A person may not [emphasis added] require the trustee to furnish copies of excerpts from the trust that contain dispositive terms of the trust or provisions on named successor trustees…” without providing a “verified” and “reasonable basis for the request” (ARS § 14-11013), That is to say, a trustee is not obligated to respond to a request to provide a copy of any part of a trust that outlines what, how, or to whom the distributions of that trust will be made, unless that person offers a “verified” and “reasonable” motive for the request.

Most of the changes enacted through SB 1204 will have little impact upon the average will or trust administration, but it’s still a good thing for you (and your attorney) to be fully informed in order to make the process as smooth and inexpensive as possible.

Veterans Administration Internal Memorandum Regarding VA Pension Aid & Attendance

For any of you who practice in the areas of VA Pension Aid and Attendance, we have a PDF digital copy of a VA internal memorandum which might be helpful in clarifying the recent changes, which became effective on October 18, 2018.  If you would like a copy of the memorandum emailed to you, please send a request to steve@johnsonestatelaw.com for a prompt response. 

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Faces Dementia With Courage

A couple of years ago, I was able to have lunch with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice in United States history.  For me, it was a significant moment as I was able to spend a few hours enjoying one-on-one conversation with a true history-maker and trailblazer.  I discovered that Justice O'Connor, despite retirement, was still quite opinionated and bold in expressing her viewpoints.  It was certainly a lunch date to remember. 

On October 23, Justice O'Connor, aged 88, announced that she has a new battle to face: the "beginning stages of Dementia, probably Alzheimer's disease."  In light of this diagnosis, Justice O'Connor has announced that she will be stepping away from public life and her leadership roles as an Alzheimer's disease research advocate and a proponent of civics education for youth.










To view a CNN article on Justice O'Connor's diagnosis, click >>HERE<<

Social Security, Medicare, Medicade, and the Vote

With the midterm elections just a few weeks away, a recent AARP-Politico poll shows that Social Security is the top issue for Arizona voters aged 50 and older.  Coming in at a close second was the issue of health care, followed by Medicare and national security. 

Those who feel that they have been unable to be a part of the political discussion or have been unable to have their questions answered might want to consider taking part in a "tele-town hall," such as those which AARP Arizona has been setting up.  While a physical town hall may be difficult for many to attend, town hall events over the telephone can be accessible to a much broader audience. 

AARP Arizona addressed this idea as well as issues relevant to voters aged 50 and older in an October 1 article entitled "High Stakes for 50-Plus Voters" by Ford Burkhart. For more information, contact the AARP state office at 866-389-5649.

To view the entire article, click >>HERE<<

Jelly Treats for People with Dementia

Lewis Hornby invented Jelly Drops, a hydrating treat for people with dementia, after his grandmother was hospitalized for dehydration.

Dehydration is a serious problem for people with dementia as they often forget or don't want to drink, and Lewis hopes his invention, which is 90% water, can help.

Lewis has won several awards for his creation, including the Helen Hamlyn Design Award, the Snowdon Award for Disability and the DESIRE Award for Social Impact.

To view the story and video on BBC News, click >>HERE<<

Breaking News on VA Rule Changes

The Veterans Administration has announced rule changes that will impact many, including a three-year look-back window.

Department of Veterans Affairs Rule AO73

On January 23, 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs proposed Rule AO73, regarding net worth, asset transfers, and income exclusions for needs-based benefits. The final wording of this rule has been posted and will take effect on October 18, 2018.

Regulations.gov offers the following summary of the new rule:
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) amends its regulations governing veterans' eligibility for VA pensions and other needs-based benefit programs. The amended regulations establish new requirements for evaluating net worth and asset transfers for pensions and identify which medical expenses may be deducted from countable income for VA's needs-based benefit programs. The amendments help to ensure the integrity of VA's needs-based benefit programs and the consistent adjudication (decision-making or judgment) of pension and parents' dependency and indemnity compensation claims. Lastly, the amendments effectuate statutory changes for pension beneficiaries who receive Medicaid-covered nursing home care, a statutory income exclusion for disabled veterans, and longstanding statutory income exclusions for all VA needs-based benefits.

A key element of the new rule, Regulations.gov clarifies that the VA proposed to amend its adjudication regulations governing its needs-based pension benefit for wartime veterans and for surviving spouses and children of wartime veterans, as well as its adjudication regulations governing its older pension programs and parents' dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC).

The new rule included the adoption of several proposed specific provisions:

First, VA adopted proposed changes to the pension benefit program with respect to the amount of net worth a claimant could have to qualify for pension (for purposes of this supplementary information, references to a claimant include a beneficiary). It adopted a bright-line net worth limit and defined as the limit the dollar amount of the maximum community spouse resource allowance (CSRA) for Medicaid purposes, at the time of publication of the final rule. It defined net worth for VA purposes as the sum of a claimant's assets and annual income.

Second, VA adopted a proposal to set forth the manner in which VA calculates a claimant's assets. It adopted a proposal to clarify VA's treatment of a claimant's residence for asset calculation purposes. It adopted a definition of “residential lot area” to mean the lot on which a residence sits that is similar in size to other residential lots in the vicinity, but not to exceed 2 acres (87,120 square feet), unless the additional acreage is not marketable.

Third, VA adopted a proposal to establish a 36-month “look-back” period and a penalty period not to exceed 10 years for those who transfer assets during this look-back period to qualify for pension. It established that a transfer for less than fair market value would include an asset transfer to, or purchase of, any financial instrument or investment that reduces net worth and would not be in the claimant's financial interest were it not for the claimant's attempt to qualify for pension.

Finally, VA adopted a proposal to define and identify medical expenses that VA may deduct from countable income for its needs-based benefits that utilize such deductions. It adopted definitions of “activities of daily living” (ADLs); “instrumental activities of daily living” (IADLs); “custodial care”; and “assisted living, adult day care, or similar facility.” It defined “custodial care” as regular assistance with two or more ADLs or supervision because an individual with a mental disorder is unsafe if left alone due to the mental disorder. The rule provides that, generally, medical expenses do not include either assistance with IADLs or meals and lodging in an independent living facility. The rule provides that an in-home care attendant's “hourly rate may not exceed the average hourly rate for home health aides published annually” in the Market Survey of Long-Term Care Costs published by the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

For full details of each of the aforementioned provisions, please use the following link to Regulations.gov:

For further information, one can contact Timothy Bailey, Acting Assistant Director, Pension and Fiduciary Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, 21P1, 810 Vermont Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20420, (202) 632-8863. (This is not a toll-free number.)