Comprehensive Planning. Lifelong Solutions.

The Equifax Data Breach: Take This One Step Now

By Jessica A. Hayes

As you have probably heard by now, Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting agencies, was hacked earlier this summer. As a result, nearly half the U.S. population’s personal data, including full names, addresses, dates of birth, and Social Security Numbers, is at risk. This is enough information for the hackers to open up credit cards in your name, apply for loans, and go on spending sprees. You may not find out immediately – especially if the hacker also has your mail forwarded to a different address. Because there is about a 50% chance your information was involved in the breach, now is the time to act.

The most important thing you can do now to protect yourself against someone else using your personal information is to place a credit freeze with each of the three credit reporting agencies. A credit freeze is a tool which prevents credit inquiries and the opening of new lines of credit. Anyone who attempts to open a credit card using your information, for example, will be automatically declined. If you wish to open a new line of credit yourself, or to permit a mortgage lender, for example, to make a credit inquiry on your record, you may temporarily lift the credit freeze either for a period of time or for a certain lender.

I first wrote about credit freezes in this newsletter back in June, following my own experience with identity theft. Because significantly more of you may be affected by the Equifax breach, I think it worth repeating.

If you put a credit freeze into place with a credit reporting agency, the agency will require you to use a Personal Identification Number (PIN) anytime you want to lift the freeze. To best protect yourself, you should place a credit freeze with each of the three agencies, meaning you will need to keep track of three different PINs. Keep them in a safe place to avoid losing them.

The three credit reporting agencies’ webpages on credit freezes are located here:

Experian: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html

Equifax: https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp

TransUnion: https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze

Each agency charges a small fee to place a credit freeze; however, Equifax has recently announced that it will waive this fee in light of the breach.

When you go to place your credit freeze with each agency, this would also be a good time for you to request a copy of your credit report. Review it carefully to ensure that all entries relate to you. If you see something that does not belong on your credit report, contact the credit reporting agency directly to request a correction.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Veteran & Service Dogs

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, are service dogs assigned to veterans long after their service has ended?

Kit Kat:  Well, yes, and this is an interesting story. Retired Army Sgt. Toby Yarbrough had served overseas and returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder and seizures after suffering a traumatic brain injury while on active duty. Mr. Yarbrough credits his service dog, Duke, with saving his life. Were it not for Duke, Mr. Yarbrough said he probably would have committed suicide. He has detailed his experiences in a self-published book entitled “The Quiet Healing.” Mr. Yarbrough now lives in Chesapeake, VA. Duke is still with him, and accompanies him to work every day at a payroll company in Newport News, VA. Also, they are accompanied by Sasha, a 3-year old former rescue dog, who has taken over for Duke, because he is aged at 13.5 years old and suffers from arthritis and spinal degeneration.

Mr. Yarbrough, Duke, and Sasha came to the attention of some local part-time filmmakers—Andrew Lauto and Jacob Woodward, who then collaborated with Dave Alegre of Virginia Beach who owns Green Thumb Studios, a multimedia business. They plan to make a short film of about 20 minutes in length about Mr. Yarbrough and his dogs. They also will feature other veterans with service dogs and those who train the dogs. It, too, will be called “The Quiet Healing,” and they hope to have it ready to air around Christmas on YouTube and Vimeo. They are also considering entering it in some film festivals.

This is a wonderful story which may give hope to others! When someone is down, seek help. There is always a solution to every problem. (Victoria Bourne, “Filmmakers to tell story of veteran with PTSD and his service dogs,” The Virginian-Pilot, Sep. 5, 2017, pg. 3)

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Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Monday, September 18th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Palliative Care and Hospice: Quality of Life for Patients with Serious Illness

By Shannon Laymon-Pecoraro

Hook Law Center, P.C. recently had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Marissa Galicia-Costillo from Sentara Norfolk General at our most recent Coffee with Colleagues seminar to discuss the difference between hospice and palliative care. While many people have heard of hospice, few have heard of palliative care, and even fewer understand the difference between the two. A brief synopsis of the takeaways from the presentation are provided herein.

Palliative Care

Palliative care, by definition, is medical care for people with serious illness that focuses on relief of symptoms to improve the quality of life for the patient and the family. Unlike hospice care, palliative care is appropriate at any stage of a serious illness (such as organ failure, Parkinson’s, dementia, and cancer) and can be provided in conjunction with curative treatment. As a result, it is never too early to bring in a palliative care team who can help define what goals you have for treatment.

Instead of treating the actual illness, a palliative care team focuses on various symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, and sleeplessness. Aside from these physical symptoms, the team may also address mental, social, and spiritual issues. The goal with palliative care is to manage symptoms to improve overall quality of life. Because quality of life varies among individuals, a palliative care team works to understand what is important to you and help set treatment goals based on your priorities. From there, the team uses your goals to guide the care you receive.

In our area, palliative care is currently provided in facility settings, most often a hospital.

Hospice Care

Hospice care is a type of palliative care provided during the last stage of a serious illness. At such point, curative treatment ends and the focus becomes comfort management. Hospice eligibility requires the patient to be considered “terminal” and prepares the patient and the family for end of life. Essentially, the doctors indicate that it would not be surprising if the patient were to die within six months. The goal is to stop focusing on treatment, and allow an individual to spend their last days as comfortable as possible.

Hospice care can be provided in a facility setting and in the home. Our area does not yet have a hospice house, although plans are underway to build one.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Great Danes Saved

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about 84 Great Danes that were rescued in New Hampshire?

Kit Kat:  Well, this story has a happy ending, but it was not such a wonderful existence for 84 Great Danes that were recently discovered in a puppy mill in northern New Hampshire. They were housed in a 15,000 sq.ft. mansion. The mansion may have had crystal chandeliers, but it was a prison of sorts for the dogs. Living in a mansion doesn’t sound too bad, but the place was a wreck. There was trash everywhere, and some wooden floors were covered in diarrhea. In other rooms, the smell of urine was so strong, that rescuers had to take breaks and tag team each other during the removal of the dogs to a shelter.

The staff of the Animal Rescue Team are to be commended for the way they handled the rescue and re-location of these dogs to a shelter. Neither dog nor human suffered any injuries. The whole process took and entire day—from 5 AM to 11 PM, and it rained heavily that day. Dogs had to be coaxed one-by-one to get in cages. Some of the dogs were so large, though, they couldn’t fit into standard cages, so the team secured a couple of horse trucks to carry them. Once at the shelter, the dogs have been receiving veterinary care. Some have pressure sores from spending too much time on hard surfaces. Others have issues with their eyes or cardiac problems. Volunteers are helping to fill staffing gaps. A lot of hands are needed to care for so many large animals. They are providing the dogs with lots of tender, loving contact and help in the feeding process. All together these 84 dogs require 225 pounds of food per day! The dogs have also received 9,946 medical treatments to date.

This is a wonderful story that indeed ended well; however, it’s a shame any animal has to endure such treatment, even for a portion of their existence. (Holly Hazard, “Animals Saved: 84 Great Danes,” All Animals, September/October 2017, p.6)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Friday, September 8th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Exercise & Foreign Language

By Hook Law Center

While exercise and learning a second language may not be at the top of your list of priorities, a new study may shed light on how people acquire new skills and how learning and can be enhanced. Learning is a continual process which enriches us at every stage of life. Scientists already had lots of information about animals and people and how exercise improved their learning capability and long-term mental acuity, but the latest study decided to examine how exercise could facilitate the acquisition of a second language. Learning a second language becomes more difficult after childhood when the brain begins to lose plasticity. Prior studies have not come to any conclusion about what types of exercise are best, or when they are optimally performed to have maximum impact.

The researchers from China and Italy recently published their results in PLOS ONE. Using 40 college-age males and females they designed a control group and an experimental group. The control group would learn in a traditional fashion—seated and in rote memorization sessions. The experimental group, on the other hand, rode stationary bicycles at 60% capacity for 20 minutes before instruction began and throughout 15-minute segments of instruction. Both groups were presented vocabulary on a large screen, paired with pictures. 40 words were given at each session, and there was some repetition of the material. After a brief rest, all completed a computerized quiz. The trial lasted over a period of two months, and eight different groups of words were presented. The results were significant for those in the experimental group. Those that exercised while learning had higher learning rates on simple vocabulary tests, but more amazing, was the fact that they were also more skilled at recognizing entire sentences, though the latter skill did not manifest itself until after several weeks of instruction. In addition, the experimental group’s learning gains persisted a month after instruction ceased, as compared to the control group. In the interim, there had been no direct teaching.

The implication in the real world is this. According to Dr. Simone Sulpizio, a professor of psychology and linguistics at the University of Vita-Salute San Raffaele in Milan, Italy, and a co-author of the study, ‘We are not suggesting that schools or teachers buy lots of bicycles. A simpler take-home message may be that instruction should be flanked by physical activity. Sitting for hours and hours without moving is not the best way to learn.’ More studies will be needed to get specificity on what types of exercise yield the best results in learning new skills. However, one can undoubtedly conclude that exercise causes the release of neurochemicals in the brain which, in turn, causes new brain cells to grow and new connections between neurons. This is the essence of all learning—new pathways are acquired, and the brain is changed forever. (Gretchen Reynolds, “How Exercise Could Help You Learn a New Language,” The New York Times, Phys Ed section of Well, August 16, 2017)

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Pets & Harvey

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, how is Texas dealing with all the stranded pets during Hurricane Harvey?

Kit Kat:  Well, they’re doing amazingly well, for the most part. One man, Joe Garcia, made sure his aging German shepherd, Heidi, was not left to fend for herself. After loading his belongings in a plastic tub and getting it aboard a rescue boat, he went back to his flooded home in Spring, Texas (north of Houston) to get her. She’s a large dog, but he maintained her head above water, and they both safely boarded the rescue boat. In another case, Belinda and Scott Penn, also of Spring tried to stick it out in their home with their 2 dogs—Winston and Baxter (a West Highland terrier and a Shih Tzu, respectively). They retreated a while to their 2nd floor, but after a day like this, they decided to take advantage of a rescue boat. Wading through high water with the dogs at their hips, they arrived at Belinda’s mother’s apartment in Woodlands. Ms. Penn commented, ‘Every situation is different, but for us, it was not an option to leave our pets behind. They are my best friends.’

Other pets have been rescued by Good Samaritans. A woman in Corpus Christi posted on social media that she had taken in a neighbor’s dog which had been left in the backyard. A photographer for The Daily Mail rescued a dog he found chained to a pole in Victoria. In Dickinson, a reporter from CNN rescued 2 retrievers floating in an unattended boat.

Shelters have been set up to take these abandoned animals. In San Antonio, for example, as of Monday, August 28, two hundred animals have been sheltered. More are coming. The San Antonio shelter is in an air-conditioned warehouse. Cats, thank goodness, were taken to a separate location. Whoever had that idea got it right—cats get very nervous when they hear barking dogs.

There is such an influx of animals to be cared for that arrangements have been made to take animals already in the shelters before the hurricane to shelters in other states. On Tuesday, August 29, a flight full of cats and dogs left San Antonio for New Jersey. On Wed., August 30 another flight took a plane full to Seattle.

The efforts of those in rescue services have been heroic. Recovery will take a long time, but at least it is good to know that our furry friends were not forgotten in the chaos. (Matthew Haag, “Saving Pets is Paramount for Many Fleeing Tropical Storm Harvey,” The New York Times, August 28, 2017)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Friday, September 1st, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

The VA Choice Program

By Letha Sgritta McDowell, CELA

Regardless of your personal politics, there are criticisms from both political parties about our current president and the actions he takes or hasn’t taken. In particular, healthcare and the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, has consumed the news lately. Prior to the spectacle around Obamacare, many healthcare advocates protested the care our nation’s veterans received (or didn’t receive) through the Veterans Health Administration. On August 12, 2017, President Trump signed an emergency spending bill which authorized an additional $2.1 billion dollars to fund the VA Choice Program.

In 2014, reporters revealed that wait times to get an appointment within the VA Healthcare system were as much as 115 days. Many veterans died waiting to be seen by a doctor in the VA healthcare system. In addition, other problems were reported in the VA, including an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, mismanagement of prescription drugs, and cover-ups regarding care veterans were receiving. As a result, the government created the VA Choice Program which allows veterans to choose local healthcare providers outside of the VA system. Using VA Choice does not affect any other veteran’s benefits.

In order to be eligible for the VA Choice Program, the veteran must already be enrolled in the VA Healthcare system and meet one of the following requirements:

    • Be told there is more than a 30 day wait for their appointment
    • Reside more than 40 miles from the nearest VA Healthcare facility with a full time primary care physician
    • Need to travel by air, boat, or ferry to the closest VA facility
    • Face an unusual or excessive burden to travel to a VA facility
    • Reside in a state or territory without a full service VA facility

The ability to receive care from a provider in the community has reduced dangerous wait times for veterans and the continued funding of the VA Choice program is critical for many veterans, especially those in rural areas like eastern North Carolina. Appointments with local providers has increased by 10% since 2014 and the implementation of the VA Choice Program.

Unfortunately scandal is not new to the VA Healthcare system. In 1945, VA Administrator Frank Hines resigned amidst scandal of poor care provided at VA hospitals. In 1972, Ron Kovic publicly protested VA healthcare and led a 19 day hunger strike at a federal building in Los Angles to shed light on poor care at VA facilities. In 1986, the Inspector General found that 93 physicians providing care at VA facilities had sanctions against their licenses. In 2003, an investigative team under George W. Bush found that more than 236,000 veterans had waited for more than six months for follow-up medical visits. These are just a few of the headlines about the VA.

Many veterans feel that the VA Choice Program gives them the ability to get the care they need out from underneath the bureaucracy that exists within the VA and on which much of the blame for poor care is placed. The emergency spending bill which extends the VA Choice Program is seen by many as a welcome relief and will hopefully continue to improve the care received by those willing to sacrifice for this country.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Forest Fires

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about forest fires, and why they sometimes may be beneficial?

Kit Kat:  Well, this is an interesting proposition—should we let forest forest fires burn themselves out or should they be actively fought? The case for letting forest fires burn without active efforts to contain them is gaining acceptance. There are several reasons for this. First, scientists now believe that, in North America before European settlement, 20-30 million acres would burn in an average year. Today, it is more typical that only 4-5 million acres burn every year. Second, burned-over land is not a wasteland. It is actually a fertile area where many types of species survive and even thrive. Take for example, the black-backed woodpecker—the mainstay of its diet is grubs which absolutely abound in burned-out trees. For some beetles, it is their ideal habitat to lay eggs. They can sense that an area has become burned over, and will rush from miles away to deposit their eggs. Third, forests periodically need to be thinned, and fire is nature’s way of accomplishing this. Finally, human lives of forest firefighters are put at risk in each fire that is fought. Families of firefighters have come to realize that fighting fire to protect property is a high price to pay, and they are increasingly suing governments for wrongful death. According to Dr. Timothy Ingalsbee, a former firefighter and now head of an advocacy group, ‘Families are no longer going to be mollified by politicians showing up at the memorial talking about their fallen heroes.’

Firefighting on a large scale started in the 19th century when it was in vogue to protect timberland for the commercial value. By the 1930s techniques had gradually improved to allow for large-scale firefighting efforts. So the debate continues. Most agree it would be better to let some acreage burn naturally—it’s a question of how much acreage. Also, some argue that money would be better spent on loans to homeowners who live on the edges of forests to build fire-resistant structures which actually have a good track record of being unharmed in fires, if the proper building materials are used. California could prove to be a test case. With 39 million inhabitants, the issue is very important. Even there, efforts by the US Forest Service are being made to allow fires caused by lightning to burn naturally in 3 national forests in the state. In summary, this is an important issue that can affect everyone, whether you live in a wooded area of not. Federal and state tax dollars to the tune of almost $2 billion annually are spent in firefighting.

(Justin Gillis, “Let Forest Fires Burn? What the Black-Backed Woodpecker Knows,” The New York Times, August 6, 2017)

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Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Friday, August 25th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Preventing Dementia and Cognitive Decline

By Jessica A. Hayes

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) have recently published a report which indicates that it may be possible to prevent dementia and age-related cognitive decline. Just seven years ago, scientists were unwilling to recommend or endorse any interventions, but the most recent findings are encouraging.

The three strategies recommended for preventing dementia and cognitive decline are being physically active, engaging in cognitive training (education, mental stimulation, and cognitive exercises), and controlling high blood pressure. There are other strategies warranting research – engaging in social activities, getting adequate sleep, maintaining a healthful diet, and managing depression, for example – but more research is required before they may be formally recommended.

The NAS report indicates that the three recommended strategies have been found to work in some situations, but not others. For example, cognitive training and physical activity were found to have the potential to delay age-related cognitive decline, but not dementia; and the only strategy identified as a potential way to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease is managing high blood pressure, although this strategy appears to have no impact on age-related cognitive decline.

These findings are encouraging, although more research is required before we can fully understand the causes of and potential interventions for dementia and age-related cognitive decline. Because the biological changes associated with some types of dementia begin ten years or more before any symptoms appear, individuals can lower their risk by making healthy lifestyle changes early – as early as when individuals reach their 40s. Furthermore, because Alzheimer’s and related dementias often have several causes, scientists recommend individuals implement several strategies to prevent or reduce age-related cognitive decline or dementia, not just one.

To review the NAS’ complete report, visit: http://nationalacademies.org/hmd/reports/2017/preventing-cognitive-decline-and-dementia-a-way-forward.aspx.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Suburban Deer

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, is there a problem with too many deer in the suburbs?

Kit Kat:  Well, that might depend on whom you ask. Take, for example, the town of Oakton, VA. Three neighbors have completely different ideas about the subject. One loves deer and has a deer feeder in her yard. Another permits bow hunters on her property to cull the deer. The third has installed an 8-ft fence to keep the deer out. That kind of sums up the range of reactions to deer in the suburbs. Overall, the number of deer in the Northern Virginia suburbs has been declining. Where there are active deer management programs, there is a definite decline in the number of deer.

Kevin R. Rose, a district wildlife biologist at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), has the following advice regarding deer. First, do NOT feed deer under any circumstances. Besides the fact that it is illegal to feed deer in many localities from Sept. 1 to the end of April, it causes them to artificially congregate, which increases the likelihood of disease transmission. Food also attracts other animals than deer, like raccoons, which are rabies carriers. Bears are also attracted to feeding stations. Feeding bears, at least in Virginia, is illegal at any time of year. Deer are perfectly capable of feeding themselves, even if they have to forage off of evergreens, twigs, and tree bark. He also discourages providing deer with salt licks. Those, too, artificially congregate deer in specific places.

When asked about the most effective way to thin deer populations in suburban areas, Mr. Rose responded that the quickest way is sharpshooting. However, this method is not permitted in every locality, nor in every neighborhood of every locality. Local ordinances regulate the use of firearms. A more effective method is through the use of bow and arrow. Though slower, archery has proven very effective in Fairfax County, VA which has an organized program.

In conclusion, while deer are very attractive, gentle creatures, it appears best to not interfere with their normal rhythms of life. It may seem harsh, but there is a balance in nature which we must respect. (Kevin Ambrose, “Oh, deer, what should we do? Addressing the suburban deer dilemma.” The Washington Post, Capital Weather Gang section, August 3, 2017)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Friday, August 18th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Beware of Public Benefits: The Cautionary Tale of Overpayments

By Shannon Laymon-Pecoraro

Recently, I have seen an increase in the number of notices from the Social Security Administration and the Department of Medical Assistance Services relating to benefits received by a person not eligible to receive benefits any longer due to a change in circumstances. Some of these cases were the result of administrative error; however, a majority of the cases were the result of beneficiaries, or their representatives, not understanding the rules surrounding benefits.

Most people do not realize that even a change in household size, income, or assets could impact means-tested benefits. A common example I see is that a child receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI), but something happens to disrupt eligibility. This could be an increase in a family member’s income, potentially due to a new job, or an increase in assets, such as when someone received a personal injury settlement or an inheritance. A family member does not think to report this change of events, despite their affirmative obligation to report these changes to the appropriate agency, which leads to the agency discovering the ineligibility period months, or years later, resulting in a large overpayment due to the agency.

Although Social Security and Medicaid each have their own rules and a number of different programs, ineligibility for one program may detrimentally impact the other. For example, the child receiving SSI is automatically eligible for Medicaid, and as a result of ineligibility for SSI, may be ineligible to receive Medicaid. Not only would money paid by Social Security need to be repaid, but you may need to reimburse Medicaid for services rendered, including payments made to a private insurance company to keep you on the Commonwealth’s plan, during the period of ineligibility.

Often, individuals receiving benefits depend on the benefits for basic survival. In the event of an overpayment, the individual often cannot afford to repay a lump sum to the agency or otherwise suffer the loss of a reduced benefit. As a result, any change in financial circumstance should be addressed with the appropriate agency as soon as possible, bearing in mind that family changes will affect an individual under the age of eighteen.

Because of the severe impact on an individual when there is a misstep, you should not “dabble” in public benefits planning. When receiving public benefits, it is important to work with someone who is knowledgeable in the area. An experienced Elder Law or Special Needs Planning attorney can help navigate the benefits maze by explaining the benefits you are or may be eligible to receive, your responsibilities, and what things to watch out for.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Shelter Tests

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about how shelters determine which dogs are good adoptees and which may be too dangerous to adopt?

Kit Kat:  Well, this is a complicated issue. Shelters themselves are beginning to re-examine their protocols for determining which dogs are suitable to be adopted and which are too aggressive and have to be put down. In the past, shelters thought they were being objective and used prompts that were supposed to tease out who was OK for adoption from those who were not. For instance, they would place a fake, plastic hand on a stick in front of the dog. If they grabbed it, and bit it, they failed the adoption test. Or they would have a hooded person shaking a cane, and see how the dog reacted. Since the adoption tests have proven not to be perfectly reliable, the shelter community in some areas is beginning to adopt a system that relies more on observation of behavior at the shelter. That can be misleading, too, as shelters are an artificial environment where dogs do not get as much individual attention as they deserve. There are also smells and many more dogs than they would ever encounter in real life.

Shelters, however, deserve a lot of credit for even looking at this issue. The Maricopa County shelter which serves the Phoenix, AZ area takes in approximately 34,000 dogs in any given year. In the first half of 2016, 536 dogs were euthanized for behavioral reasons. In the first half of 2017, with a new director, they stopped the behavioral testing, and only 31 dogs have been euthanized for aggressive behavior. According to Dr. Gary J. Patronek, an adjunct professor at the veterinary medicine school at Tufts University, ‘The tests are artificial and contrived. During the most stressful time of a dog’s life, you’re exposing it to deliberate attempts to provoke a reaction. And then the dog does something it wouldn’t do in a family situation. So you euthanize it?’

It is reassuring that shelters are doing all they can to save as many dogs as possible. Shelters which handle large numbers of dogs, like those in LA and NYC, even go as far as placing their dogs in playgroups outside the shelters. Dogs Playing for Life is one such group in which playgroups are used to observe the dogs’ behavior. This issue will continue to be debated. However, much progress is being made in the attempt to treat dogs in the most respectful way possible. (Jan Hoffman, “Is This Dog Dangerous? Shelters Struggle With Live-or-Die Tests,” The New York Times, Science section, July 31, 2017)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Friday, August 11th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

The Importance of Re-evaluating Your Estate Plan

By Elizabeth Boehmcke

For decades, estate planners have drafted estate plans around the federal estate tax, looking for ways to minimize or avoid the payment of estate taxes on death. Because the estate tax exemption amount was as low as $600,000 as recently as 1997 and did not top $1 million until 2002, estate tax planning affected a large proportion of Americans. Entire estate plans were created solely to avoid the payment of estate taxes on the death of the first spouse to die and to maximize the use of the estate tax credits available to each spouse. Typically, such planning resulted in the creation of a credit shelter trust upon the death of the first spouse to hold the then maximum estate tax credit amount and any remaining assets would frequently pass to a marital trust for the benefit of the surviving spouse. If the estate was in excess of $1 million, there may also be generation-skipping trusts created for the benefit of grandchildren. Such plans had numerous advantages, including protecting assets passing to the spouse in the marital trust for the remainder beneficiaries (typically children) and step up in basis for the assets in the marital trust upon the death of the surviving spouse. However, there are disadvantages as well for estates where the marital trust made up a larger share of the overall estate than the available credit shelter amount because a marital trust can only be for the benefit of the surviving spouse. In addition, the accounting and income tax filings for the multitude of trusts created under such plans could be cumbersome and confusing. In a time where the maximum federal estate tax rate was 55%, the complications were justified by the tax savings.

Now that the estate tax exemption amount (and the generation-skipping tax exemption amount) is $5.49 million per person (or $10.98 million for a married couple), many of those old tax driven estate plans may no longer be appropriate or wanted because the assets of the couple are well-below $10.98 million. If the first spouse to die has an estate less than the estate tax exemption amount, the credit shelter trust will absorb all the assets, leaving nothing to fund the marital trust. Because the assets in a credit shelter trust are not includible in the estate of the surviving spouse, there is no step-up in basis for those assets upon the death of the surviving spouse. And depending on the family dynamics, it may not be appropriate for the children or grandchildren to be equal beneficiaries with the surviving spouse as is the case in many credit shelter trusts, However, such a plan made more sense when originally drafted because the credit shelter trust was assumed to be much smaller than the marital trust. With the fall in the top rate of the estate tax to 40% and the increase in the exemption amount to almost $5.5 million, and the increase in the income tax to 39.6% with a top capital gains tax rate of 20%, it has become very important to consider the income tax consequences of an estate plan for most Americans.

If you currently have an old estate plan, it will be important to consult with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney to determine if your family circumstances may be better suited to simplified plan. While there are still many reasons, like creditor protection for your beneficiaries and probate avoidance, to create trusts, if the only reason you wanted a trust in the first place was the avoidance of estate taxes, it is time to draft a new plan. Even if your remain subject to estate taxes, your old plan was created for a different environment for securing the marital deduction and it may behoove you to revisit your plan to see if it can be simplified to some degree.

But what if you have one of these old plans and your spouse has died? Don’t despair. There are tools in our toolbox that can help. We may be able to “decant” (or transfer) the trust to a new trust which gives the surviving spouse a general power of appointment over the assets in an old credit shelter trust. Such a power, even if never exercised, will allow a step up in basis for the assets in the trust on the death of the surviving spouse. In other circumstances, it may be appropriate instead to distribute the assets outright to the surviving spouse in order to diminish administration costs and obtain a stepped up basis upon the death of the surviving spouse. For trusts created to take advantage of the generation-skipping exemption, under the right circumstances, it may be possible to grant a general power of appointment to strategically include the assets in the estates of several members of a generation (perhaps children, perhaps grandchildren) to take advantage of multiple estate tax exemption amounts and receive basis step-ups for the assets.

By finding ways that we can increase the basis of assets without increasing exposure to estate taxes, we can dramatically lower the amount of capital gains taxes that your beneficiaries may have to pay if the assets are to be sold in the future. If you haven’t re-visited your estate plan in the last few years, it will be worthwhile to visit with the attorneys at the Hook Law Center to see how we can simplify your plan and hopefully lower the taxes that your beneficiaries will have to pay.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Traveling with Service Animals

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about traveling with a service animal?

Kit Kat:  Well, I don’t know a whole lot about it, but I read an interesting article recently in The New York Times about the matter. The article had to do with traveling in airports with service animals and how areas for the animals to relieve themselves beyond security checkpoints vary tremendously. I hadn’t thought much about that particular aspect, but it certainly could prove to be problematic, depending on the type and quality of areas offered.

Michael May, chief executive of Lighthouse for the Blind in Seattle, who is blind himself, has traveled through quite a few US airports. One he praises is Washington Dulles International Airport. On the other hand, O’ Hare International Airport in Chicago is not high on his list. Dulles has 2 post-security relief areas—one off of Concourse B and one off Concourse D. Each is over 200 square feet in size. Built in 2010, they have artificial grass and water systems in the floor that wash away the waste. O’ Hare’s, in contrast, has one area off Terminal 3 which is ‘a little, 2-by-3 box meant for Chihuahuas or small pets, not my guide dog,’ which is a 55-pound golden retriever.

Laurel Van Horn, director of programs for the Open Doors Organization, was critical of Terminal 4 at Kennedy International Airport. She found the relief area ‘small and narrow.’ She thinks the central placement of a fake fire hydrant limits overall space and can snag the animal’s leash.

So it appears some work needs to be done in providing these spaces. The law is relatively new (since 2009 for American carriers and 2010 for foreign carriers). Airports are experimenting with the best options given the space available in each location. Another thing the airports have to contend with is use of the areas by other animals such as security dogs and travelers’ pets. Sometimes there is conflict between the different groups. Service animals and security dogs can have different personalities. Miami International Airport has come up with a clever solution. It has 4 relief areas which are used by 1 animal at a time. “Each has a door with a window and a ‘vacant/in use’ sign with Braille and tactile lettering,” according to Laurel Van Horn of Open Doors.

Planning ahead of time, and selection of particular airports if that choice is available, then may ease some of the stress of travel. Just another thing to consider when making one’s travel plans, especially if that includes travel with a service animal. (Jane L. Levere, “When a Service Animal Has to Go, Airports’ Options May Be Wanting,” The New York Times, Business Day section, July 24, 2017)

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Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Monday, August 7th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Is Game of Thrones A Victory for Disability Rights?

By Letha Sgritta McDowell, CELA

Recently, approximately 10.1 million people watched the premier of this season of Game of Thrones, making it the most popular show on cable television. For those of you who are not familiar, Game of Thrones is based on the book series by George R.R. Martin. It is fictional and fantastical with a medieval feel including the existence of dragons, giants, sword fighting, kings and queens, and a noticeable lack of internet, smartphones, electricity, and telephones. The series is a fascinating study in intertwined relationships among friends, enemies, and things in between. The series also includes a number of main characters with disabilities. One main character is paralyzed, one has an intellectual disability, one is missing a hand, and one is a little person. All of these characters are strong characters who have a significant impact on the plot and story line. Many who advocate for people with disabilities are thrilled with both the number of people with disabilities in such a popular program as well as the fact that they play main characters whose roles are essential to the story line. Their disability is not emphasized, instead their diversity and talents are celebrated.

While many are celebrating the success of Game of Thrones and believe its positive portrayal of those with disabilities; other are not as convinced. One character suffers from a skin disability and is later burned by her parents. The focus on her disability is meant to invoke sympathy, but some disability activists are concerned that the writing perpetuates the stereotypical portrayal of a person with a disability as a victim. In another scene, a play which makes fun of little people is performed while one of the strongest and most interesting characters is a little person himself. Unfortunately, that crass humor could be seen as perpetuating stereotypes which unfortunately continue to exist.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990. It extended the civil rights protections offered to people of color, women, and older adults to people with disabilities. Protection was necessary due to discrimination which existed and which was perpetuated by stereotypes of people with disabilities. Certainly it can be said that a lot has changed since the ADA was enacted. The prominence of people and characters with disabilities in the most popular show on television can be seen as evidence of this positive change.

However, while progress has been made, there is still much to do in the way of advocating for people with disabilities. For every famous television star there are many more persons in need of assistance with finding appropriate health care, services in the community, income and more. In addition, these services are often costly and a small amount of money may cause the loss of services. Proper planning and knowledge about services available in the community can assist a person with a disability in remaining independent in the community.

While it is unclear as to whether the prominence of people with disabilities in Game of Thrones will have a positive impact on the overall lives of people with disabilities, it is a great pop-culture reminder that we have come a long way in treating people with disabilities as equals. Its popularity can be a reminder that there is still work to be done to ensure all people with disabilities are treated equally and have access to the services and supports they need.

If you have questions about services available to assist people with disabilities in either North Carolina or Virginia, please contact the Hook Law Center to schedule an appointment to meet with one of our attorneys.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Too Many Geese?

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, does Hampton Roads have a problem with too many Canadian geese?

Kit Kat:  Well, that probably depends on whom you ask. Certain neighborhoods certainly seem to be struggling with the issue. Kings Grant in Virginia Beach recently was the subject of controversy. The neighborhood had tried to discourage the geese from settling there, but to no avail. Residents then petitioned the US Department of Agriculture to have 103 geese rounded up. These geese were then taken to a processing plant to be made into food for use at wildlife sanctuaries. Why are certain areas having problems with too many geese? They certainly are beautiful to look at. However, too many geese in a small area produce so much fecal waste (about 1.5 pounds per day per goose) that it can be a health hazard. Their poop contains pathogens that can cause diseases like E.coli, listeria, salmonella, and giardia.

Overall, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries reports that the number of Canadian geese is declining; however, it reports that this is not true in urban areas. Jennifer Cromwell of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries attributes the differing settlement rates to the fact that rural areas permit hunting, and urban areas do not. All is governed by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which limits hunting to certain times of the areas and certain geographical areas. The geese used to be migratory passing through Hampton Roads on their way further south. Now, they are staying for longer periods and rearing offspring. Those that are born here do not seem to leave.

To deal with this increasing problem, the US Fish & Wildlife Service since 2006 have permitted destruction of nests and eggs. A permit is not required, but one must register with the service. The US Fish & Wildlife Service in conjunction with the Dept. of Agriculture will also come and inspect a particular area and offer suggestions about how to discourage geese from settling in an area. So stay tuned as the struggle continues. Citizens are torn about what is the best way forward to deal with these beautiful creatures. Judy Braley, of the Virginia Beach Department of Parks and Recreation, says the city does it best to keep park areas clean, but she will admit, ‘It’s a never-ending battle with our feathered friends.’ (Lee Tolliver, “Tubular and on the green,” The Virginian-Pilot, July 15, 2017, pgs. 1 and 9)

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Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Tuesday, August 1st, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Spotlight on: Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia

By Jessica A. Hayes

To best assist our clients, we strive to familiarize ourselves with the many helpful resources available to seniors in the area. An invaluable resource of which many of our Virginia clients are unaware is Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia (SSSEVA). Hook Law Center’s attorneys and long-term care paralegals recently had the pleasure of meeting with representatives from SSSEVA to learn more about their services. Particularly for our clients who have no family nearby or who wish to remain living in their home but require a little assistance, SSSEVA may improve their quality of life significantly.

SSSEVA’s programs and services include:

  • Transportation – The “I-Ride Transit” program provides accessible transportation options for seniors age 60 and up and individuals with disabilities in metropolitan Hampton Roads and Western Tidewater. They offer fixed routes, medical transportation, paratransit, and on-demand response transit. Fares are extremely affordable (generally $4 or less).
  • Meals SSSEVA is a member of Meals on Wheels of America. Its meal delivery service provides 10 microwavable meals every two weeks to individuals age 60 and up who are homebound and unable to prepare their own meals. The meals are free, but donations are welcome.
  • Companionship – The Senior Companion Program will match a senior living at home with a senior volunteer who visits and assists with a variety of tasks such as grocery shopping or light meal preparation. The service is free to those who need the assistance.
  • Ombudsman Services – The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program assists individuals who have concerns about assisted living facilities, nursing homes, in-home care, and adult day care, mediating between seniors and their medical providers and investigating and resolving complaints. This service is free of charge.
  • Medicare benefits counseling – SSSEVA has counselors on staff who can assist seniors in applying for Medicare, filing Medicare claims and resolving billing issues, enrolling in Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Program), and choosing a Medicare Advantage Plan, among others. This service is free of charge.

A call to SSSEVA’s resource specialists (757-461-9481) can help you identify which of these and other SSSEVA programs and services may be beneficial for you or your loved one. For more information, visit https://www.ssseva.org/.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Monkey Talk

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about why monkeys cannot talk? They have so many of the preliminary skills, but for some reason, it just doesn’t result in speech?

Kit Kat:  Well, as is usual, scientists have different opinions on the subject. The groundbreaking original study on the subject was done around 1969 by Philip Lieberman of Brown University and published in the journal Science. The study examined rhesus macaque monkeys. It compared live rhesus macaque monkeys who were sedated with that of a plaster mold of the throat made from a rhesus macaque monkey that had died. The monkeys could produce sounds, but they could not produce certain vowels, like the long E sound, which appears in many languages. The study postulated that the shape of their windpipes was not adequate to produce speech. Nor did they possess a sufficiently long vocal tract.

Until 2016, the Lieberman study appeared to be the accepted thought on the matter. Then, other scientists from the University of Vienna (Austria) and Vrije University in Brussels (Belgium) conducted their own study using a series of x-rays of rhesus macaque monkeys’ vocal tracts. They concluded that monkeys had a much broader speech capability than previously thought. They could indeed make many short vowel sounds (a, e, i, u), as in the words bat, bet bit, and but. However, Anna Barney of the University of Southampton (England) commented, that “the new research was convincing, but raised questions, such as a lack of macaque consonants. What they’ve shown is that monkeys are vowel-ready, not speech-ready.”

So the debate continues. Scientists undoubtedly will seek more clues as to why intelligent primates such as rhesus macaque monkeys, chimpanzees, and bonobos cannot go beyond their cooing and babbling and execute real speech, as humans define it. They certainly possess nonverbal communication; however, real speech continues to elude them. (Ben Guarino, “No More Than Monkey Talk,” reprinted from The Washington Post and appearing in The Virginian-Pilot, p. 4, July 8, 2017)

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Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Tuesday, July 25th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

IRS Grants Extension for Portability Purposes

By Shannon Laymon-Pecoraro

Many people are aware that in 2013, Congress established a permanent basic Federal estate tax exclusion amount of $5,000,000, as adjusted for inflation. For purposes of the Federal estate tax, a portability election allows a surviving spouse to carryover the unused estate tax exclusion amount of the deceased spouse. This carryover essentially increases the exemption for the surviving spouse by the amount of the unused exclusion of the decedent. However, to make a valid election, the personal representative of the estate (often known as the Executor or Administrator) is required to file a timely IRS Form 706 within nine months after the decadent’s date of death, or in the alternative, filed a six-month extension via IRS Form 4768.

To demonstrate the importance of this election, let’s imagine that Al died with a $7 million estate, of which $4 million went to his wife, Barbara, and $3 million went to his daughter. Al’s estate is entitled to a $4 million marital deduction for the amount left to the surviving spouse, so Al only used $3 million of his $5 million exemption as a result of the gift to his daughter. The Executor of Al’s estate timely filed an Estate Tax Return and made a portability election, which resulted in an additional $2 million exemption carrying over to Barbara to use at her death. This election was important, because Barbara had approximately $3 million in her own name at the time of Al’s death. As a result, if Barbara died shortly after receiving the $4 million from Al’s estate, at the time of her death, the full $7 million owned by Barbara would pass to the beneficiaries free from Federal estate tax. Had the Executor not timely filed the portability election, $2 million of Barbara’s assets would be subject to Federal estate tax.

The failure to elect portability to preserve the unused portion of a decedent’s exemption was a problem a number of attorneys throughout the country faced, and the only way to tackle it over the past few years was to obtain a costly Private Letter Ruling from the IRS. To address this issue, in June 2017 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Revenue Procedure 2017-34 to grant an extension for those who failed to elect portability in a timely manner. Accordingly, this revenue procedure provided a simplified method to obtain an extension of time to elect portability by permitting the personal representative of an estate for which there was no filing requirement to file a return before the later of January 2, 2018, or the second anniversary of the decedent’s date of death.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Woodpeckers in Dismal Swamp

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the re-emergence of woodpeckers in the Great Dismal Swamp?

Kit Kat:  Well, this seems to be a victory for conservation efforts. There haven’t been woodpeckers in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, which straddles the NC and Virginia state lines, since 1974! I am referring to the red-cockaded woodpecker, that is, which is known for having a very attractive male with a dash of red feathers on its head. They are known to live in live trees, and they select mates for life. Previously, the birds had a range of habitat running as far north as New Jersey; however, that was eventually reduced due to logging and development. By 1970, the species was in decline, and in that year it was added to the endangered species list. Now, it appears that the northernmost limit is in the Sussex and Suffolk counties of Virginia. Colonies in both counties are headed up by the Nature Conservancy’s Piney Grove Preserve (Sussex) and the Center for Conservation Biology (Suffolk).

The woodpeckers which have now bred in the Great Dismal Swamp came from woodpeckers in North and South Carolina. From a group of 18 released into the area over the last two years, 5 remained (2 males and 3 females). They managed to produce several eggs; two survived. Those two have been banded, with two bands being placed on each’s right leg and three on their left leg. Just last month (June), the babies had feathers. Using a telescopic camera, it was determined that both are female. This fall, Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology in Suffolk, says four more pairs will be introduced there. Watts says they are aiming to have five breeding groups by 2020. Keep your fingers crossed that things will develop as planned. As director Watts says, ‘Nature and animals will do their thing. There’s only so much we can manage.’ (Victoria Bourne, “Endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers make a rare re-entrance at Dismal Swamp,” The Virginian-Pilot, July 5, 2017, pg.4)

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Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Monday, July 17th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.