Execute a Power of Attorney Before It’s Too Late

A durable power of attorney is an extremely important estate planning tool, even more important than a will in many cases.  This crucial document allows a person you appoint — your “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” — to act in place of you — the “principal” — for financial purposes when and if you ever become incapacitated due to dementia or some other reason.  The agent under the power of attorney can quickly step in and take care of your affairs.

But in order to execute a power of attorney and name an agent to stand in your shoes, you need to have capacity.  Regrettably, many people delay completing this vital estate planning step until it’s too late and they no longer are legally capable of doing it.

What happens then? Without a durable power of attorney, no one can represent you unless a court appoints a conservator or guardian. That court process takes time, costs money, and the judge may not choose the person you would prefer. In addition, under a guardianship or conservatorship, the representative must seek court permission to take planning steps that he or she could have implemented immediately under a durable power of attorney with gifting authority.

This is why it’s so important that you have a durable power of attorney in place before the capacity to execute the document is lost.

If you do not have someone you trust to appoint as your agent, it may be more appropriate to have the probate court looking over the shoulder of the person who is handling your affairs through a guardianship or conservatorship.

Because you need a third party to assess capacity and because you need to be certain that the formal legal requirements are followed, it can be risky to prepare and execute legal documents on your own without representation by an attorney. For assistance executing a durable power of attorney before it’s too late, contact the elder law and estate planning attorneys at Costanzo & Russom Law Group, LLC.

How Likely Are You to Need Long-Term Care?

Planning for retirement and deciding whether to buy long-term care insurance would be a lot easier if you knew your odds of needing long-term care, as well as at what age and for how long. Unfortunately, there’s no definite answer. On the other hand, some statistics do provide a bit of guidance.

The Numbers

In 2012, there were about 1.2 million nursing home residents over 65 years old in the United States. Of these, 18 percent were 65 to 74 years old, 32 percent were between 75 and 84, 41 percent were between 85 and 94, and 9 percent were 95 or older. Of course, there are fewer of us in each age cohort, so the likelihood of needing nursing home care rises even more steeply with age than these percentages indicate. While these numbers do not reflect other types of long-term care, the need for home care, assisted living, or care provided by family members probably rises at similar rates.

According to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, in 2012 64 percent of long-term care claims were made by those over age 80 and only 9 percent were from those in their 60s. Meanwhile, according to the association’s figures for 2008, 44 percent nursing home residents stay less than a year, 30 percent stay between one and three years, and only 24 percent spend more than three years in a facility. Updated numbers would likely indicate even shorter stays as more seniors receive care at home or in assisted living facilities. Those who move to nursing homes do so when they are older and sicker, meaning that they stay for a shorter period of time than in the past. According to one reported statistic, only 40 percent of seniors spend any time in a nursing home.

Interpreting the Numbers

So, what do all of these statistics mean in terms of your planning? First, the odds are that you will not need care until you are at least 80 or 85. Second, if you do need nursing home care, there’s a 44 percent chance it will last less than a year (either because you will return home after a period of rehabilitation or you will not survive more than a year) and only a one-in-four chance that your stay will last three or more years. Of course, if it does, your costs will become prohibitive. However, since only 40 percent of seniors spend any time in a nursing home and only a quarter of those stay longer than three years, this means that statistically you have only a one in 10 chance of needing more than three years of nursing home care.

Unfortunately, these statistics are somewhat dated and are just statistics. How do any of us know whether we are part of the 60 percent of seniors who will never enter a nursing home, the 30 percent who will spend less than three years there, or the 10 percent who will spend more than three years? We don’t, but we can modify the statistics based on our own circumstances, especially with respect to certain factors.

Key Factors

Family History: Did your parents live to a ripe old age with no cognitive impairment or become demented at 72, requiring continuing care for another 10 years? While we do not have our parents’ exact genes or live their same lifestyle, there are likely to be some similarities.

Health and Fitness: Do you have any illnesses or conditions that could lead to future impairments or are you in good health and take good care of yourself? Are you overweight or obese, which can lead to illness and disability? Of course, in terms of long-term care, health can cut in both directions. Bad health can lead to the need for care or it can cause an early death, eliminating the need for care. Good physical health can delay the need for care but in the event of cognitive challenges mean that you live a long time with impairments.

Family Situation: If you do need assistance in the future, do you have a spouse, children or other family members who could provide care? Or would you need to pay for it whether at home, in assisted living or in a nursing home?

We have statistics on the need for nursing home care because nursing homes are highly regulated. We know how many people are in them at any one time and how long they stay. We don’t know for sure how many seniors are receiving care at home or in assisted living facilities. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that for every person living in a nursing home, there’s another receiving care at home or in assisted living. Then we can assess the average likelihood of needing care as follows:

No Need for Care  22%

 0 – 1 Year  35%

 1 – 3 Years 24%

 More than 3 Years 19%

Then, you can adjust these numbers up or down based on your health, family history and family situation. For instance, if you are in excellent health, you might add 10 percentage points to the likelihood that you will not need any care, reducing the likelihood of needing 1 to 3 years or more than 3 years of care by 5 percentage points each. If, on the other hand, one of your parents needed a decade of care due to Alzheimer’s disease, you might add 5 percentage points each to the longer levels of care, taking 5 percent off of both the “no need” and the “less than one year” categories. Statistically, men are more likely to receive assistance from their wives, than women from their husbands, in large part because women live longer on average.

While this is far from perfect, by developing your own table you will have a better idea of how to protect yourself and your family’s finances should you require long-term care.  Costanzo & Russom Law Group, LLC can help with this planning, explaining your options and the steps that can be taken now to prevent financial devastation later.

Homestead Benefit Program

New Jersey offers homeowners a rebate program called the Homestead Benefit Program. It is sometimes referred to as the Homestead Rebate. The Homestead Benefit Program was enacted in the 1970’s to provide relief from the State’s increasingly high property taxes.

Who is eligible for the Homestead Benefit?

You may be eligible for the 2016 Homestead Benefit Program if, as of October 1, 2016, you:

  1. Were a New Jersey resident;
  2. Owned and occupied a home in New Jersey that was your principal residence*;
  3. Property taxes for 2016 were paid on that home; and
  4. Met the 2016 income requirements: (a) $150,000 for homeowners age 65 or over or blind or disabled; or (b) $75,000 for homeowners under age 65 and not blind or disabled.

*If you were not a homeowner on October 1, 2016, you are not eligible for a Homestead benefit, even if you owned a home for part of the year.

You are not eligible unless you are required to pay property taxes on your home. You are not eligible for a benefit for a vacation home, “second home,” or property you owned and rented to someone else. If you owned more than one property in New Jersey, you can only file an application for the property that was your principal residence on October 1, 2016.

How Can I Receive my Benefit?

There are two ways to get your Homestead Benefit. The first is a credit on your property tax bill. The second is a check or direct deposit BUT ONLY IF (1) your home was a unit in a co-op or a continuing care retirement community or (2) you indicated that you no longer owned your home.

If you sold your home or will close before November 30, 2018, you must answer “No” to the question of whether you still own the property. This way, you can choose to receive a check or direct deposit. If you don’t, you may lose the benefit altogether.

Our clients sometimes have trouble when they sell their home before a Homestead Benefit is applied to the property tax bill. Unfortunately, the options are extremely limited. The buyer can reimburse the sellers for the benefit amount after closing, if they agree. Alternatively, the benefit amount can be adjusted at closing, if the benefit amount is known. You should notify your closing attorney as soon as possible so that negotiations can be conducted with the buyer’s attorney.

The deadline to file the 2016 Homestead Benefit application is November 30, 2018.

To see how Homestead Benefits are calculated and for a list of other frequently asked questions, visit the NJ Division of Taxation’s website at: https://www.state.nj.us/treasury/taxation/homestead/geninf.shtml.

If you have questions about buying or selling real estate, please call us at 732.552.0900 to schedule a consultation. Costanzo & Russom Law Group, LLC handles hundreds of real estate closings all across the State each year. Let our experience benefit you!

How an Estate Plan Saves You (Yes, You!) Money

People often focus on “how much” it costs to draw up an estate plan. In most cases, it’s more important to understand what it costs when you DON’T have an estate plan in place.

Every adult should have a Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, and Living Will in place. Depending on where you live, a consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney and a basic set of documents will probably cost less than $500.

But what will it cost if something happens to you without a plan in place? Here are a few of the “costs” you might not have considered:

  • Without a Last Will and Testament:

    • Your property passes to your intestate heirs. For most people, this is NOT the State. In New Jersey, it’s generally your closest living relatives. This might not be who you want to receive your assets (Do you have a blended family? Estranged child? Prefer to benefit someone else? Want to benefit a charity?);
    • Your next of kin will have to agree on who will administer your Estate. The administrator must be bonded. A bond, in this context, is like an insurance policy that the individual will properly administer the Estate. Bond premiums are based on several factors, including the size of the Estate and the administrator’s credit. Bonds must be renewed while the Estate is open. The bond requirement can be waived in a Will. This alone usually saves your family more money than the cost of a Will;
    • You won’t have nominated guardians for your minor children. The court decides;
    • Minors receive their inheritances outright at eighteen (18).
  • Without a Power of Attorney:

    • Your loved ones must seek court authority to manage your affairs during your lifetime if something happens to you. This process, even when uncontested, typically costs around $5,000 between attorneys fees and court costs. It can take several months to finalize. Court permission/approval is required for many things thereafter;
    • You don’t get to choose who manages your affairs during your lifetime.
  • Without a Living Will:

    • Your loved ones bear the burden of making end-of-life decisions for you;
    • Your decisions for end-of-life treatment aren’t memorialized;
    • You may be subjected to medical treatments that you would rather not endure.

Costanzo & Russom Law Group, LLC can help you put an estate plan in place to protect you and your family from these hidden “costs.” Call (732) 552-0900 to set up an appointment!

Ice & Snow – Remove It Before You Go | Toms River Attorney

Break out that snow shovel or snow blower and the snow brush and scraper! That beautiful coat of white snow atop your driveway, sidewalk and car could cost you greatly if you don’t remove it.

Property

As a property owner, you have legal obligations to keep your property clean, safe and free of ice. Not only could you face fines, but you could also face a lawsuit if someone is hurt. For instance, Toms River will penalize you $100 for your first offense and $200 for each subsequent offense up to $1,000.00 (each day is a separate offense). Brick is cracking down as well, and the ordinance dealing with penalties is a default provision which indicates a fine not to exceed $2,000 or no more than 90 days community service. There are also time limits within which you must have the snow removed. Check your local municipality for exact time frames.

What’s worse is that if you do not shovel the snow, and someone is injured because of that, you may be liable for their injuries. Property owners must use reasonable care in keeping their property safe, and if someone gets hurt because of an unsafe condition, that owner may be brought into a lawsuit.

Although you may be an expert shoveler, sometimes you may miss a spot. So you should ensure you have liability insurance coverage to pay the cost of your legal defense and any court awards (up to the limit of your policy) should someone be injured on your property and sue you. Check with your insurance agent for the best coverage.

Vehicles

Not only is there a requirement to keep your property safe, but in New Jersey, you break the law when you do not remove the ice and snow from your vehicle.

Ice & Snow – Remove It Before You Go

I’m sure you’ve seen the famous and oh-so-clever jingle on your way to work, but it is a serious law in New Jersey. You have to remove all the ice and snow from your vehicle before driving it on the road — from the hood, windows and roof. If you don’t, you face fines from $25 to $75 for each offense whether or not the ice or snow is dislodged from your car. The fines are increased if ice or snow flies off your car or truck and causes property damage or injury to others: $200 to $1,000 for each offense. And don’t forget the ever-impending civil lawsuit for injuries that could always come your way if your negligence causes another driver’s injuries in an accident.

According to www.nj.gov, there are approximately 500 fatalities in the United States per year due to winter road conditions. In an effort to combat that statistic, the State of New Jersey gives the following Winter Driving Tips:

  • Drive slow (at or below the posted speed limit) and adjust your speed accordingly for the changing road conditions.
  • Turn on your headlights, using low beams when traveling in snow.
  • Increase your following distance. In winter weather, travel at least 8 to 10 seconds behind the car in front of you.
  • Give snowplows plenty of room to work. Don’t tailgate and try not to pass. If you must pass, take extreme caution in doing so. Remember, a snowplow operator’s field of vision is restricted. You may see him, but they don’t always see you.
  • If you skid, don’t brake or accelerate. Remove your foot from the gas, and gently steer your car in the direction of the skid (the direction the rear of your vehicle is sliding). When your car starts heading in the desired direction, carefully straighten the wheel.
  • Slow down before exiting the highway. Exit ramps often have icy patches, sharp curves and stalled and/or stopped vehicles.
  • Have a personal safety kit easily accessible in your vehicle that includes the following: an ice scraper/brush; shovel; jumper cables or battery starter; blanket; sand, salt or kitty litter for traction; lock de-icer; flashlight and new batteries; extra windshield wiper fluid; safety flares/warning device; cell phone with spare battery; water and non-perishable food (i.e., granola or protein bars); and paper towels or a cloth.
  • If your vehicle does become disabled, pull off the road as far as possible and turn on your emergency flashers. Remain with your vehicle until help arrives. If you can’t get your vehicles off the road and are uncertain about your safety, do not stay in your vehicle or stand behind it. Proceed carefully to a safe location away from traffic.

How the Law Offices of Apicelli, Costanzo & Russom can help you:

If you were seriously injured because of someone else’s negligence, call us today! Because there are time limitations on how long you have to file a lawsuit, it is very important that you do not sit on your rights. If the accident lawyers here at the Law Offices of Apicelli, Costanzo & Russom take your personal injury case, we will begin work right way to make sure that we preserve as much evidence as possible to help you recover a settlement for your damages.

Our NJ car accident attorneys are experienced in dealing with insurance companies and can help you obtain an award that adequately compensates you for your injuries and suffering. As a client-focused law firm, we will not hesitate to pursue your rights in court if the responsible party refuses to make you a reasonable offer in satisfaction of your injuries.

No fees unless we recover money for you. If you retain the NJ injury lawyers here at the Law Offices of Apicelli, Costanzo & Russom to represent you on a personal injury matter, we will not charge you a fee for our services if we do not recover money for you.

Contact us today to tell us about your case and see how an experienced NJ personal injury attorney can help you.