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How Tech Can Help Your Career When You’re Living with a Disability

By Patrick Young

When you’re living with a disability, it’s important to use all the resources at your disposal when it comes to your job. Fortunately, these days, there are a ton of apps, sites, and devices that can help you do your job with ease. Whether you’re looking for a job or just need to be able to work comfortably from home, there are several tools you can use that will help you advance in your career. Think about what your needs are, and then consult this list for ideas on how to use tech to your advantage when it comes to your professional life.

Make Working from Home a Cinch

Some of the best jobs for individuals who are living with a disability are the ones that allow for remote work, which means you can get things done in the comfort of your own home. In the past, finding a job that allowed a person to work from home was like finding a pot of gold, but these days, more and more companies are turning to freelance contractors who can do their jobs outside the office and save them money. Using a job board will help you connect with the right gig for your experience level, such as data entry. As Upwork points out, data entry can put your detail-oriented skills to work by populating spreadsheets or transferring info to databases, and you can do it all from the comfort of your own house without a long commute.

Utilize Your Phone

If you’re going the freelance route, make sure you have a dependable phone that will help you stay connected no matter where you are or what you have going on. Need an upgrade? Check out the super-fast iPhone XS Max, which has a state-of-the-art dual-camera system and will keep you going for 13 hours before it needs to be charged. Not an Apple user? The Samsung Galaxy S10+ has similar features but offers a wide camera rather than the dual option.

Prep for Your Interview

When you’re ready to look for a new job, it can be intimidating to think about polishing up your résumé and going in for interviews. With a few helpful apps, however, you can prep for those face-to-face meetings by researching the company, boosting your cover letter and résumé, and even getting ready for the technical aspect of the interview, such as practicing potential questions. By utilizing these resources, you can find out more about a business through their social media posts, which could help when you’re ready to sit down with the hiring manager.

Boost your Small Business

Owning and operating a small business is a huge job, and tech can come in handy in just about every aspect. Whether you run things from home and need a streamlined method of communication with your team or you just want to make your online presence bigger, there are several ways to go about it. One of the easiest places to start is the Google Suite, which offers everything from customized email to file-sharing services that will allow you to stay organized. You can also consider using a portable card reader so you can do business on-the-go.

Whether you’re ready to overhaul your career or just give it a little push, there are so many ways you can make the process easier on yourself using tech. Think about your specific needs and where your budget lies, and make sure you’re educated about how to become a freelance contractor, if that’s the route you want to go in. Look online for details concerning the state you live in since freelancers are typically required to apply for a business license. By utilizing the resources at hand, you can boost your career in just about any direction with ease.

Ask Kit Kat: Species Re-dicovered

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about a re-discovered species in Vietnam?

Kit Kat: Well, this is another wonderful tale about the resiliency of nature. Scientists had feared the silver-backed chevrotain (also called the Vietnamese mouse deer) was extinct. However, in mid-November 2019, data about the creature was released in the scientific journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. First noticed in the spring of 2019, the chevrotain was photographed in the wild in southern Vietnam over a 5-month period. It was the first time the mammal had been spotted in about 30 years. The term “mouse deer” is very accurate as far as how the animal looks. About the size of a rabbit, it looks like a mouse on relatively long, skinny legs. “For so long, this species has seemingly only existed as part of our imagination. Discovering that it is, indeed, still out there, is the first step in ensuring we don’t lose it again, and we’re moving quickly now to figure out how best to protect it,” says Vietnamese biologist An Nguyen, an associate conservation scientist with Global Wildlife Conservation, a nongovernmental organization.

The habitat of the chevrotain is the coastal rainforest in southern Vietnam. To gather more information about the chevrotain, scientists set up cameras for 5 months in areas where local people had spotted them. Over that period, 1881 photographs were taken. Chevrotains are neither related to mice nor deer, but are labeled ungulates or hoofed mammals. They are the world’s smallest in this class. They usually weigh under 10 pounds, are shy and solitary, seem to walk on the tips of their hooves, and have 2 small fangs.

Scientists first described the species in 1910 when they had access to 4 specimens. Then, they seemed to disappear, and there were no more verified records until 1990, when they became aware of one caught by a hunter in central Vietnam, much further north than the latest sightings. The two habitats are different—one is in wet evergreen forests, and the other is in dry forest. There is still much to be learned about these unusual creatures. Also, how they were discovered offers lessons as well—scientists utilized local people and listened to their stories. They did not discount their accounts. With modern technology, they were able to verify and collect data about them. Hopefully, measures can now be taken to protect this unusual species.

(Katie Hunt, “Tiny deer-like animal thought lost to science photographed for first time in 30 years, “ www.cnn.com, Nov. 11, 2019)

Posted on Wednesday, November 27th, 2019. Filed under Senior Law News.

Medigap or Medicare Part C: What’s the Difference?

By Letha Sgritta McDowell, CELA

There are just a few days left during this Medicare open enrollment period and, if a change is needed to your Medicare plan, then this is the time to make the change. Open enrollment is from October 15 through December 7 each year and is the time when a Medicare recipient can switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to traditional Medicare or change back to traditional Medicare and a supplement from Medicare Advantage. This is also the time period in which individuals can change their Medicare Part D plans.

While Americans are largely familiar with Medicare (it’s the health insurance plan to which we contribute our entire working lives), many are confused between traditional Medicare, Medicare supplements and Medicare Advantage Plans. Traditional Medicare includes Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B. Part A covers hospital expenses and Part B covers physician services, outpatient treatment and medical equipment. Medicare Parts A&B have both deductibles and co-pays which could amount to significant out-of-pocket costs if the enrollee has a major medical event.

Since there could be significant out-of-pocket expenses with traditional Medicare, private health insurance plans are available to cover the potential out-of-pocket expenses or coverage gaps which exist with basic Medicare. These plans are also referred to as Medigap plans. Each company offers a variety of plans at varying premium levels and which result in varying out-of-pocket costs for the enrollee. With traditional Medicare and a Medicare supplement, an enrollee should also choose a Medicare Part D plan. Part D is to portion of Medicare that insures against the costs of prescription drugs.

While Medicare coupled with a Medicare supplement is typically excellent insurance coverage, many find the out-of-pocket premium expenses to be high. An alternative is a Medicare Advantage Plan (also known as Medicare Part C). Enrolling in Medicare Advantage means that the individual actually dis-enrolls from traditional Medicare. The entire health insurance package is offered by the private health insurance plan and combines some of the coverages from Parts A & B as well as the supplemental insurance and prescription drug coverage. Medicare Advantage may also offer services or treatments which would not be covered by traditional Medicare. Because Medicare Advantage is entirely administered by private health insurance companies, plans are often limited based on geographical area and may limit the enrollee to physician groups and hospital systems. The US Government provides some funding to private health insurance companies to administer Medicare Advantage plans and for that reason, some may have little to no out-of-pocket costs monthly; however, the overall coverage may be more limited based on the plan chosen.

Both Medicare Supplement plans and Medicare Advantage plans offer combined coverage for those who are eligible. Ultimately, what plan is appropriate should be based on health concerns, lifestyle, income, and ability to pay out-of-pocket expenses in the event of an illness. There are insurance professionals who can assist in reviewing a person’s circumstances and assisting in choosing the best coverage option. For those currently unhappy in their plan, now is the time to investigate options and make changes as needed.

Ask Kit Kat: Raymond Retired

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the mule named Raymond who lives in the Outer Banks of North Carolina?

Kit Kat: Well, I have written about Raymond before—the first time in early July of this year. He is a much beloved figure there. However, Raymond has been aging lately, especially his hooves. He’s a scrappy little fellow around the age of 20. He has wandered with the wild horses of Corolla, sometimes getting into scrapes with the stallions who dwarf him in size. Raymond never let his diminutive size deter him from doing what he wanted to do. In September, however, his hooves became worse due to navicular disease and laminitis. Meg Puckett, manager of the Corolla wild horse herd, said the decision was made to move him to Grandy, NC in nearby Currituck County, so he would not be under so much stress to forage and deal with others in the wild horse herd. Other older horses from the Corolla wild herd are there, but Raymond has his own corral. He made the move on Sep. 29, 2019. Ms. Puckett commented, “We really did not want to pull him off the beach. If we had put him back on the beach he would have died a slow and painful death. We’ve got the X-rays to prove it.”

Raymond, they report, was not exactly a model resident at first. When he spotted a male horse at a nearby stall, he started kicking, and nearly broke through his stall. When that strategy didn’t work, he tried to climb over the stall. Staff then had to put him in isolation, where he was closely monitored and fed hay and one carrot a day for several days. He has calmed down a lot, but leaving nothing to chance, they have built him a corral with thick posts, heavy gauge wire fencing, and 2 lines of electrified rope. This is in contrast to the much larger horses who peacefully reside behind a low plastic fence.

If you’d like to visit Raymond, contact the Corolla Wild Horse Farm, 102 Young Rider Lane, Grandy, NC. Occasionally, they have open houses, or they just might let you schedule a visit. (Jeff Hampton, “Raymond the mule retired from the wild and taking it easy on the farm,” The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 11, 2019, p. 1 & 11).

Posted on Friday, November 22nd, 2019. Filed under Senior Law News.

Avoiding IRS Scams

By Hook Law Center

With tax season around the corner you can expect an increase in tax related scams. Which it is why it is important to know how to identify a scam quickly so that you do not find yourself in a situation where you have divulged personal information or given money to a scammer. Below are a few tips to be aware of and things to be on the lookout for.

First, it is important to understand how the IRS initiates contact with taxpayers. Most communication with the IRS is through regular mail such as the U.S. Postal Service. There are very few circumstances where the IRS will contact a taxpayer at his or her home or business. If you do receive a phone call from the IRS it is likely due to one of the following circumstances:

  1. As a result of an overdue tax bill. Keep in mind that prior correspondence through regular mail would have been sent to you.
  2. To secure a delinquent tax return.
  3. To tour a business as a result of an audit or criminal investigation.

Next it is important to understand what the IRS will not do. This includes:

  1. Make threatening phone calls and demand that you use a wire transfer or prepaid gift card to make a payment. Instead, payments should be made payable to the U.S. Treasury or can be made online at: IRS.gov/payments
  2. Demand for immediate payment. Remember, the IRS will send you several notices including the option to appeal or provide you with information to contact the IRS regarding questions on the amounts that are owed.
  3. Threaten to contact the local or state police. This type of scam is a popular tactic with the goal being to scare you into making an immediate payment with the scammer.

You should not give out sensitive information including your SSN, date of birth, address, bank account, etc. over the phone or through email unless you know for certain who you are speaking with and that the individual is in fact who they say they are. If you do not owe taxes and have no reason to think that there are any issues with your account, you can report the scam to the IRS via email at phishing@irs.gov. You will need to include the caller id and call back number when submitting the information to the phishing department. 

Ultimately, if you are ever in doubt about the caller – hang up! You can contact the IRS directly at 800-829-1040 regarding your individual account or 800-829-4933 for your business account. You can also view your account online with the IRS by going irs.gov/payments/view-your-tax-account.

Ask Kit Kat: Special Dogs

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us how specially-trained dogs, known as conservation dogs, help track endangered species?

Kit Kat: Well, this is another wonderful story! Dogs, as you may know, have a keen sense of smell. This is just not an interesting characteristic, but a useful one as well. We all have heard about how service dogs help the blind, sense diabetics’ low blood sugar, and even can alert medical personnel to the presence of cancer. Now there is a new use to which they are being assigned—assisting with the tracking of endangered species. Their fine sense of smell is being used to track endangered species through detection of scat (fecal matter) that a particular species leaves in its particular environs. This method has the advantage that the species in question does not have to be trapped to gather information. According to the Journal of Wildlife Management, this method has been used to collect data about the San Joaquin kit fox, gray wolves, cougars, and others.

Now scientists have switched their attention to reptiles. The focus of their research is the blunt-nosed leopard lizard in the San Joaquin Valley (CA). To track this particular lizard, they used one female German shepherd and two male border collies. The dogs were very precise about identifying the correct type of scat. From the samples, scientists got information about the diet, habitat, and even gender of the reptiles. The samples were taken over a four-year period. The dogs would signal when they had found the correct sample by laying down next to it. The blunt-nosed leopard lizard is considered endangered, because much of its habitat has been destroyed.

The next step is to determine if this method can work on a larger scale. “So many reptilian species have been hit so hard,” says Mark Statham, of Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. He continues, “This is a really valuable way for people to be able to survey them.” Kudos to the dogs who have brought us this far! (“How conservation dogs help track endangered species,” www.cnn.com, Oct.30, 2019)

Posted on Monday, November 18th, 2019. Filed under Senior Law News.

Assuming Roles of Trustee and Power of Attorney

By Jennifer Rossettini, CFP®

Your loved one has lost capacity and you are named in their Power of Attorney and/or Trust – Now what?

If you are fortunate, your loved ones have done their estate planning and put documents in place to enable a trusted person to assume the management of their financial affairs in the event of their incapacity.  If you are that trusted person who has been named as an agent in a Power of Attorney or as the successor Trustee in a Revocable Living Trust,  what are the steps that you need to take before you can fulfill those roles when your loved one has lost the ability to manage his/her own financial affairs?  The answer is, it depends on the particular document.

If your loved one has a General Durable Power of Attorney which becomes effective as soon as it is signed, that is great news for you.  There are no other hoops that you have to jump through before beginning to act on your loved one’s behalf.  However, if the General Durable Power of Attorney states that it only becomes effective upon the principal’s incapacity, you have a little more work to do before you can act.  You will need to get a written statement from a treating physician stating that your loved one is no longer capable of managing his/her financial affairs.

If your loved one has a Trust, things can become a little more complicated. You will need to read the Trust very carefully to determine how “incapacity” is determined and to what role the definition applies – your loved one as “grantor” of the trust or as “trustee” of the trust. Incapacity may be defined differently for each role.  Most Revocable Living Trusts make provisions for what the Trustee can do with the assets if the Grantor, the person creating the Trust, becomes incapacitated.  For example, the Trustee may be limited in how to make distributions from the Trust.  Similarly, most Revocable Living Trusts make provisions for when a successor Trustee can be named.  Usually, this is when the original Trustee, who is often also the Grantor, “fails to qualify or ceases to serve” as Trustee.  This can be the result of the death, resignation, or incapacity of the Trustee. 

Incapacity of the grantor is often defined as the inability of the Grantor to manage his/her financial affairs.  On the other hand, incapacity of a Trustee is often defined as the inability of the Trustee to manage the affairs of the Trust.  If you are attempting to assume the role of Trustee, it is very important to read the Trust to determine the exact language that the physician will need to use in the opinion letter or certification.  The Trust will also dictate how many physician opinions you will need to get and from what kinds of physicians.

Once you have obtained the necessary physician letters with the appropriate language, you will need to do a few more things before you can go to the bank and assume responsibility of your loved one’s trust accounts.  You will need to sign an Affidavit that outlines the facts surrounding the determination of your loved one’s incapacity and your acceptance of the role of Trustee.  You will also need to sign a Certificate of Trust that tells third parties that you are the new Trustee.  Some financial institutions will even require an opinion letter from an attorney that says the correct procedure has been followed.

When you are called upon to manage the financial affairs of a loved one and you’re not sure what to do, look to the document itself for specific instructions. 

Ask Kit Kat: New to the Zoo

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the new arrivals to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.?

Kit Kat: Well, two mustachioed monkeys have made DC’s National Zoo their new home, having moved from the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in Minnesota. They were introduced to the public on Oct. 23, 2019. They are brothers Poe (1.5 years old) and Fleck (2.5 years old). Technically, they are emperor tamarins which are known for their long white mustaches, which stand out against their grayish-black coats. They could give Colonel Sanders a run for his money—their mustaches are much longer than his! They each weigh about a pound, and that is considered full grown. If you want to see them, they are in the Amazonia forest exhibit. Their native home is in the Amazon basin which includes area in Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil. Tamarins are very social, and live in groups their entire lives. They help care for each other, until it is time for them to separate and form their own families. I am happy to say, this is one species that is not endangered. Their numbers are such that they are classified as “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. However, if too much of their habitat would be destroyed, that classification could change.

Another new arrival to the zoo is a lesser kudu calf. Kudus resemble small antelope. Their coat is tan (reddish brown for females), but adults and calves have white stripes which run perpendicular to their spines, speckled by a few white spots. Males also have a spiral rack of horns when fully mature. The male calf, who is not yet named, was born Oct. 14, 2019. He has a 10-month old brother named Kushukuru. They seem to be getting along well, frolicking, and playing with dad, who is 9 years old. Originally from Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia, they have adapted well to captivity. The average lesser kudu lives up to 15 years in the wild, but can live about 5 years longer when protected. Their status is “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. About 100,000 exist in the wild. The National Zoo is lucky to have these beautiful creatures. (Dana Hedgpeth, “National Zoo welcomes a couple of mustachioed monkeys and a lesser kudu calf,” The Washington Post, Oct. 30, 2019)

Posted on Friday, November 8th, 2019. Filed under Senior Law News.

The Effect of Annuities on Long-Term Care Plans

By Shannon Laymon-Pecoraro, CELA

Annuities are great investments for people who are frightened by the stock market or need a tax-deferred investment, and they have long been used to ensure a guaranteed income in retirement. In simple terms, an annuity is a contract with an insurance company whereby the purchaser pays a certain amount of money and the insurance company sends payments in accordance with the purchase terms. The terms of the annuity will spell out whether the return is fixed at a certain percentage, or subject to the market and therefore a variable return with a minimum guarantee, and whether the payments will be immediate or deferred, and made in equal installments or contain balloon payments. While insurance producers often try to match the purchase terms to the client’s current or anticipated goals, what is often overlooked when these annuities are purchased is the effect on the purchaser when there is a long-term care need.

Annuities were often used in the financial services world by individuals that were accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs to convert assets of the individual into an income stream, creating eligibility for the non-service connected pension benefit. Under the rules implemented by the Department of Veterans Affairs in October 2018, the purchase of an annuity within three years of an application for pension benefits will result in a penalty period.  As a result, the timing of a purchase, or the annuitization of an already purchased annuity, may impact a Veterans eligibility for the pension benefit.

Even more complex is the Medicaid-compliant annuity, the purchase of which is subject to a five year lookback. Under federal law, annuities may still be purchased during a “Medicaid spenddown” by either the applicant or spouse, provided certain criteria are met. Such an annuity must be an irrevocable, non-assignable single premium immediate annuity that is actuarially sound pursuant to Medicaid’s life expectancy tables. Additionally, in most cases, the state Medicaid agency must be named as the primary benefit of the annuity in the event the annuitant dies prior to the completion of the annuity payout. While the annuity is a great way to shelter an asset, the purchase of the annuity generates a new income stream and could disrupt income eligibility in some circumstances. Consequently, an elder law attorney must dissect the terms of the annuity to analyze the effect of its purchase, or annuitization, on the overall plan.

An elder law attorney must stay up to date with the current rules and regulations surrounding purchases and annuitization of annuities with regard to both Veterans pension and Medicaid claims. A failure to satisfy the rules and regulations may create an irreversible penalty, and therefore jeopardize the long-term care plan. The use of an annuity for long-term care planning should be made in conjunction with the recommendation of an experienced elder law attorney.

Ask Kit Kat: Counting Squirrels

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, why were the squirrels in Central Park of New York City counted in October 2018?

Kit Kat: Well, this was an interesting endeavor. It really never had been done before in Central Park in the systematic way which will be described. The study began Oct.5, 2018 and took about 2 weeks to complete. It was the brainchild of Jamie Allen who conducted a similar census in 2012 in Inman Park in Atlanta. The study will give more information about the Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). The data collected from the Atlanta study yielded information with some unexpected results.

The counters, called squirrel sighters, were largely from Colin Jerolmack’s environmental studies class at NY University. The park was divided into 350 one hectare squares. A hectare is equivalent to 2.5 acres. Each sighter spent 20 minutes twice a day and recorded what was observed. Observation times occurred early in the morning and again in late afternoon. The sighter walked the perimeter of the hectare and then moved to scan the interior. They were not only looking at the number of squirrels, but also at their behaviors—running, eating, foraging, etc. They also looked at coat color which can vary among gray squirrels—gray, black, cinnamon, or white. Vocalizations were also analyzed. Scientists call the most frequent sound squirrels emit as “kuks” which have a clicking sound. “Quaas” are sort of joyful noises indicating yahoo! They even make “moans,” especially when the weather is not so great—like when it is drizzling. Creating the map of the hectares was a feat in itself. A cartographer, Nat Slaughter, took 15 months to make it.

The process may seem a bit imprecise, but the scientists have a way to compensate for this. There actually is a formula designed in 1959 by squirrel biologist, Vagn Flyger, to count squirrels, knowing that they can hide or blend in with their surroundings. AZ/VπSy2. Therefore, A (area surveyed) x Z (# of squirrels seen) is divided by V (visibility quotient of 0.6) x π x S (time observing) x y (average observation distance) squared. Stay tuned for the results. They should be released shortly. Not sure what the holdup is, but these active little creatures are fun to watch. We cats love their tantalizing tail movement! (Andy Newman, “Why Count All the Squirrels in Central Park? Why the Heck Not,” The New York Times, Oct.6, 2018)

Posted on Tuesday, November 5th, 2019. Filed under Senior Law News.
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