Veterans Pension

Veterans Pension

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides monthly income assistance to disabled Veterans and their spouses or widows through their Veterans Pension program. To qualify for pension benefits, the Veteran must have served no less than 90 days (one of which must have been during a designated “wartime”) have received an honorable discharge and meet qualifying income and asset standards.

Disability Requirements

To qualify for pension, a veteran must be “permanently and totally disabled,” meaning “any impairment of the mind or body which is sufficient to render it impossible for the average person to follow a substantially gainful occupation.”  The VA has a schedule of specific injuries that constitute permanent and total disability, but will consider other factors including a veteran’s age.  Veterans age 65 and older are presumed to be permanently and totally disabled for the purpose of determining eligibility for pension.  Evidence of disability, such as a statement from a private physician should be included with the application.  If this evidence is sufficient for rating purposes, further medical evaluation may be unnecessary.

Income Standards

The VA income standards are set based on need, with monthly benefit amounts (changed annually) for single Veterans, married Veterans, and widows of Veterans.

A pension will supplement the individual’s regular monthly income up to the level for which they qualify. Thus if the Veteran meets a standard of $1,000 in monthly VA pension and has income of $600 per month, he/she will be entitled to receive a pension payment of $400 per month.

Certain medical expenses are deducted from regular monthly income to determine the Veteran’s need. If the Veteran meets a standard for $1,000 in monthly pension and has an income of $1,600 per month, he could still qualify for the full $1,000 in VA pension if his qualified monthly medical expenses amounted to $1,600 or more.

Medical expenses are payments for items or services that are medically necessary, improve the disabled persons functioning, or prevent slow or ease the individual’s functional decline. These might include expenses for doctors, hospital, homecare, assisted living, nursing home, medications, medical or adaptive equipment, health insurance premiums, etc.

Asset Standards

An applicant for VA pension must have a net worth equal to or less than the prevailing Medicaid maximum community spouse resource allowance ($123,600 in 2018). The VA defines “net worth” as assets (not including the home) plus annual income (as adjusted by monthly medical expenses).

Thus an individual who owned $100,000, and has an annual income of $30,000 would have a net worth of $130,000 and would not meet the asset standard. The same individual would meet the standard, however, if his regular monthly income was offset by qualified medical expenses of $2,000 per month, ($24,000 per year). His net worth would then be only $106,000 ($100,000 + $30,000 – $24,000 = $106,000).

Transfer Penalty

The VA has established a 36 month look back period and a penalty period of up to five years for individuals who reduce their net worth by giving assets away or transferring them for less than they are worth. The VA looks back from the date it receives a claim either initially or after a period of non-entitlement.

The penalty is determined based on all assets transferred during the look back period which would have put the applicant over the net worth limit at the time. For example, if the net worth limit was $123,600 and the applicant now has a net worth of $100,000, but gave $50,000 to his children within the past 36 months, the penalized amount would be $26,400 ($100,000 + $50,000 – $123,600 = $26,400).

The penalty is measured in months of disqualification. The penalty period is calculated based on the maximum monthly pension rate for a veteran who needs aide and attendance and has one dependent ($2,169 in 2018). Thus, the individual in the example above (with a penalized amount of $26,400) would have a penalty period of 12 months ($26,400 ÷ $2,169 = $12.17).

The penalty period would begin on the first day of the month following the last asset transfer. The maximum penalty can be no more than 5 years regardless of the amount penalized.



The Four Biggest Trust Mistakes

The Four Biggest Trust Mistakes

Trusts can be wonderful estate planning tools used to address a myriad of issues. These four common mistakes, however, can cause a trust to create more problems than it solves.

Mistake #1: Choosing the Wrong Type of Trust

Trusts can be used for tax planning, Medicaid planning, estate planning, protecting vulnerable beneficiaries such as minor children, disabled individuals or even future unborn generations. No trust can do everything; however. It is important that your trust be carefully crafted to meet your particular goals and needs.

Mistake #2: Choosing the Wrong Trustee

The job of the trustee can be a difficult one. The trustee should manage the assets in accordance with the settlor’s wishes. He must invest prudently, keep orderly accounts, file taxes and treat beneficiaries fairly. Choosing an inept or worse, a dishonest, trustee can prove disastrous.

Mistake #3: Not Funding the Trust Properly

A trust is like a basket which holds assets. If property is not titled to the trust, you have an empty basket. Assets can be titled to the trust either during the settlor’s lifetime or at his death. Generally an attorney who draws a trust will also draw a will that “pours over” assets into the trust through the probate estate. This is somewhat inefficient. Assets titled jointly with survivorship to another person or name someone other than the trust as a designated beneficiary will not be governed by the trust provisions. Some assets should not be titled to the trust. Titling assets such as IRA’s, 401 K’s, 403 B’s and qualified annuities to the trust may cause major tax ramifications.

Mistake #4: Not Keeping Your Trust Up To Date

As your life circumstances change, your trust should evolve to meet your needs, just as your personal and financial situations change, so do the laws surrounding trusts. Plan to review your trust every 2 to 5 years or when you have a major, life changing event such as the birth of a child, death of a spouse, marriage or major change in fortune. Be sure to have all of your asset information as well as all prior trust amendments when you meet with your attorney.

Your trust is an important part of your estate plan. Avoid these costly mistakes by working with an experienced and knowledgeable attorney.

Medicaid for Your Spouse Issues and Traps

Medicaid for Your Spouse Issues and Traps

You pledged “for better or worse”, “for richer or poorer”, and “in sickness and in health”. What do you do now that things are worse, your spouse is so sick he needs round the clock care that you cannot provide at home and you are facing the prospect of becoming poorer and poorer?

As families seek Medicaid to help with the cost of long term care, they should be aware of some commonly overlooked obstacles.

Place your loved one in a facility that accepts Medicaid

Independent living and many assisted living facilities do not accept Medicaid especially in their “Memory Care” sections. Some facilities will accept Medicaid, but only after the patient has paid privately for some period of time.

It is especially important to know the facility accepts Medicaid in the case of married couples. The assets that the healthy spouse is able to keep are based on the total assets that the couple has on the date of institutionalization (the “Snapshot Date”). Paying for care in a non-qualified facility may reduce the amount of funds that the healthy spouse eventually gets to keep.

Title Assets Appropriately

To qualify for Medicaid, the ill spouse can have only $2,000 in countable assets. The healthy spouse (the spouse living at home) can keep much more. In addition to the “exempt” assets (the house, one car, household goods, funeral plots, and irrevocable funeral plans), the healthy spouse can keep half of the couple’s countable assets with a minimum of ($24,720 in 2018) and a maximum of ($123,600 in 2018). It is important to retitle assets properly to maintain Medicaid eligibility and to avoid Medicaid Recovery upon the death of the healthy spouse if possible.

Assume that the married couple has a home – owned jointly with right of survivorship, joint checking, savings and investment accounts as well as IRA’s and life insurance policies naming each other as beneficiaries. The healthy spouse, using a power of attorney or guardianship if necessary, should retitle the couples assets as follows:

  • Keep the joint checking account with no more than the ill spouse’s $2,000. Deposit the ill spouse’s Social Security and other income to that account.
  • Open a new account in the healthy spouse’s name alone “payable on death” to children. Have the healthy spouse’s income deposited into the new account. Transfer excess from the joint account to this new account each month to keep the joint account at $2,000 or below. Pay the household bills from the new account.
  • Title the savings account and investment accounts in the healthy spouse’s name alone “payable on death” to the children.
  • Name the children as beneficiaries on the healthy spouse’s IRA and life insurance policy.
  • Cash out or change ownership of the ill spouse’s life insurance.
  • Cash out or annuitize the ill spouse’s IRA.
  • Title any vehicles in the name of the healthy spouse alone “transfer on death” to another family member.
  • Title the house in the healthy spouse’s name alone.
  • The healthy spouse should change her will to name children as beneficiaries.

Set up a Qualifying Income Trust for High Income Individuals

Once on Medicaid, the ill spouse’s monthly income will be used for his personal spending ($50 per month), a monthly income allowance (MIA) for the spouse at home to help meet her needs and a patient liability payment to the facility. However, if the ill spouse’s gross income is above the Special Income Limit ($2,250 in 2018) he will not qualify for Medicaid regardless of his need.

High income individuals must establish a special “Qualified Income Trust” (QIT) to filter the excess income in order to qualify. This QIT must be established and funded in the month the Medicaid Application is made. If it is not, the application will be denied. This problem is compounded by the fact that a Medicaid application can take months to process. If the QIT is not in place during those months, Medicaid will not pay.

Seeking and paying for long term care for your spouse is complex and stressful. A qualified Elder Law Attorney can help you understand the process and make a plan to protect assets and secure the best care possible for your loved one.

Is Your Power of Attorney Right For You?

Is Your Power of Attorney Right For You?

In my opinion, a power of attorney (POA) is a more important document than a will. While a will may control what happens to my family and my possessions when I die; a POA controls what happens to ME while I’m still alive. Because the POA is needed most when I am incapacitated, it’s good to get things right.

Do I have the right POA?

Ohio has two types of POA. The healthcare POA directs who will make your medical decisions when you are unable. The financial POA gives your agent the authority to handle certain financial matters as described in the document. Both documents are important and one cannot substitute for the other.

Have I named the right agents?

The person you choose as your agent will be making important life decisions for you. Consider a person’s character and abilities to handle the duties assigned rather than their proximity to you or birth order. Remember, too, to name one or more backup agents in case your chosen agent is unable to help you when needed.

Did I give my agent the right amount of power?

Your agent can only do those acts specifically described in the document. Thus, if the POA does not say that your agent can open accounts in your name or establish a trust for you he cannot. Similarly, if the POA says that the agent can change the beneficiaries on your life insurance or transfer your house to himself he can.

Is the POA executed in the right way?

A healthcare POA requires a notary or two witnesses to observe and verify the signature. The witnesses cannot be the signer’s physician, medical caregiver or the named agent. Financial POA’s must be notarized if the agents are to be able to deal with real estate in Ohio.

Do the right people have the document?

A POA does no good unless it is used. Be sure that your agent and backup agents know they have been named and what is expected of them. Be sure that they have or know how to locate the document, itself. Although Ohio laws may recognize a photocopy, many financial institutions will demand to see an original before allowing the agent to act.

Powers of Attorney are important to your overall estate plan and should be carefully drafted to fully meet your needs and goals. Consult with your attorney to be sure that your legal documents are right for you!

Steps to Take In Fighting Financial Neglect & Exploitation

Steps to Take In Fighting Financial Neglect & Exploitation

Physical and cognitive impairments of aging can rob people of the ability to manage their finances. It can also make them more susceptible to being robbed by others. Many instances of financial neglect and exploitation go unreported because of shame, guilt, fear that the victim may lose independence or concern that the perpetrator (who may be a close friend or family member) will retaliate.

You may notice signs of financial neglect or exploitation such as confusion or fearfulness, unpaid bills, lack of medical care, unnecessary services, goods or subscriptions, missing items or cash, large or frequent withdrawals from bank accounts, or suspicious changes in property titles or legal documents. Stepping in to help can be problematic. Overstepping can cause resentment and distrust, but stepping back could mean financial ruin for the victim. So what steps should you take?

  1. Stepping Forward Without Stepping on Toes

Assuming that the victim recognizes that there is a problem, there are a number of ways you can help him to help himself.

  • Simplify – Reducing the number of transactions can make things much more manageable. Consolidate accounts, set up automatic payments of bills, limit purchases to one credit card.
  • Reduce – Get off of junk mail lists, sign up for the do not call registry, clear out and shred extraneous paperwork.
  • Organize – Sort and store important legal and financial papers and tax records, itemize and safeguard valuables and collectibles, set up a system to collect and review bills and monthly statements.
  • Monitor – Request and review credit reports annually, check references of caregivers and other service providers, work with an accountant, attorney and financial advisor, etc.
  1. Stepping It Up to Keep A Step Ahead

If your loved one’s impairments are too severe, you may need to step forward to handle things yourself. If you are named agent under a durable financial power of attorney, you are able to handle any matters listed in the document. With the “immediate” POA, either you or the principal can act. If yours is a “springing” POA, you cannot act until a certain event – usually that a doctor has certified that the principal is too ill to handle things himself.

You must present your POA to any bank or other financial institution that you deal with, have it registered or recorded and your signature accepted. Whenever you sign, be sure to write the principal’s name, sign your name and indicate that you are acting as agent under POA.

If property is in a trust, the trustee manages the assets rather than the agent under POA. Co-Trustees can both manage assets. A successor trustee can take over when the initial trustee resigns or becomes incapacitated.

  1. Stepping In

Since the POA is given by the principal, he can also take it away. And he can continue to handle his own finances as well. If your loved one’s judgement is severely impaired and he is at risk of self-neglect or exploitation, it may be necessary to bring a guardianship action through the Probate Court. This is an adversarial action in which you would need to prove to the court that the principal is incompetent and that you are an appropriate person to manage his affairs. You would need to post a bond insuring your good management and account to the court annually for your transactions. In bringing a guardianship action, you will want to have an attorney with you every step of the way.

To manage social security or VA income, you must apply directly to the agency to become a payee. Keep careful records as annual accounting’s will be required.

  1. Stepping Aside

If you find that your loved one is in severe danger or needs more help than you are able to give, you should report the neglect or exploitation to your county Adult Protective Services (APS). Anyone can make a confidential report and the APS will investigate and seek to help. Many professionals who work with seniors are “Mandatory Reporters”. Mandatory Reporters are required to report suspected abuse to the APS.

Mandatory Reporters Include:

Psychologists                                                                 Social Workers
Nurses                                                                            Counsellors
Peace Officers                                                               Clergymen
Marriage & Family Therapists
Attorneys                                                                         Employees of:
Physicians                                                                         Ambulatory Health Facilities Osteopaths                                                                        Home Health Agencies
Podiatrists                                                                         Residential Facilities
Chiropractors                                                                   Nursing Homes
Dentists                                                                              Hospitals

As of September 29, 2018, more professionals will be added as mandatory reporters. These are marked with a star below:

Firefighters                                                                     Real Estate Brokers
Ambulance Drivers                                                            or Salesmen
Notary Public                                                                 Financial Planners
Paramedics                                                                     Investment Advisors
Pharmacists                                                                    CPA’s
Dialysis Technicians

Employees of:
Mental Health Agencies
Banks or Credit Unions

Any person who has reasonable cause to suspect elder abuse, financial or otherwise, may make a confidential report, if the report is made in good faith, the reporter will be immune from criminal or civil liability and protected from employment discrimination or retaliation.


OR CALL 1-855-OHIO-APS (1-855-644-6277) TOLL-FREE 24/7



Many Ways to Transfer Property at Death

Many Ways to Transfer Property at Death

They say “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”, but there are a number of ways that property can be passed at death without a will. The probate court provides a process to pass on inheritance to the next of kin of the decedent when he dies “intestate” (without a will). Property can also be passed without probate court involvement if it is held “jointly with right of survivorship” (JWROS), with a designated beneficiary or in a trust.  Ohio law even provides that title to vehicles may pass directly to a surviving spouse without probate.

The first step in sorting out a decedent’s estate is to determine what assets he owned and how they are titled. Heirs or beneficiaries can then follow the procedures required to collect the assets.

Intestate Property

The probate court oversees the process of transferring property held in a decedent’s name alone. Without a will, anyone may apply to administer the estate. The closest relatives living in Ohio have first priority to be the administrator and must be notified or sign off for someone else to administer. The administrator is generally required to post a bond (an insurance policy that he will handle his duties properly) in order to protect all the heirs. Because there is no will to grant powers, the administrator will need to get probate court authority to sell or transfer assets. Once the bills have been paid, the administrator will distribute the remaining assets to the decedent’s next of kin in accordance with the Ohio Statute. The probate process can be complicated so it is best to have an attorney assist with the administration.

Joint with Right of Survivorship

Virtually any type of property can be held jointly with another person; real estate, a bank account, even a vehicle. Just because something is held jointly doesn’t mean the survivor gets to keep the asset when an owner dies, but this is often the case. Most times, a certified death certificate and an affidavit outlining the facts is all that is needed to collect survivorship property.

Designated Beneficiaries

A person can name beneficiaries who are to receive an insurance policy, IRA, annuity, bank account, stock account, house, car or other property when the title owner dies. The designation of a beneficiary is given directly to the insurance company, bank, brokerage, county recorder or whoever keeps the record of ownership. To claim the property, the beneficiary must contact that company or agency to make the claim. Claim forms and procedures vary greatly. Making a claim may be as simple as presenting a death certificate or may involve completing multiple page claim forms that require a medallion guarantee signature from a bank or brokerage. Each beneficiary may be required to make decisions about cashing or continuing the account and withholding for taxes.

In the case of an IRA, for example, a spouse may elect to roll the IRA into her own name, name her own beneficiaries, and wait until she needs to make required minimum distributions. If multiple children inherit an IRA, they can divide it into separate inherited IRA’s and each decide whether to cash out immediately or “stretch” it out for years taking only the required minimum distributions. Each holder of an inherited IRA or inherited Roth IRA must begin taking required minimum distributions immediately and should name beneficiaries for their own account.

Trust Assets

Assets titled to a trust are administered by the surviving or successor trustee as directed by the terms of the trust. If all of the creators of the trust have died and there is no one surviving who can revoke the trust, its’ terms become irrevocable and a federal tax identification number must be assigned to the assets. The Trustee must follow proper protocols for notifying beneficiaries, managing the assets and handling the taxes. A qualified attorney and accountant may be needed to advise the Trustee.

Vehicle Transfer to Spouse

Ohio law allows a surviving spouse to transfer an unlimited number of vehicles to herself so long as the total value is less than $65,000, and so long as there is no one else who owns the vehicle jointly with right of survivorship, is designated a TOD beneficiary or is named in the will to receive the vehicle. To transfer, the spouse must take her ID, the vehicle title or registration showing VIN number, and a certified copy of the death certificate to the county BMV title office, sign an affidavit and pay a small transfer fee.

Handling the transfer of a decedent’s property can be a complicated affair under the best of circumstances. The process can take weeks or even months. Dealing with the myriad of details while grieving the loss of a loved one can seem overwhelming. An experienced attorney can help to organize, understand and control the process.

Caring for Pets

 Caring for Pets

For many people, pets are a member of the family. While one hopes children (and spouses) will eventually be able to care for themselves, pets require constant care their entire lives. If your pet should outlive you, who would take care of your beloved four legged friend?

Private Agreement

While many people feel uncomfortable talking about death, it is important to have these tough conversations beforehand. Many times the family can be thrown into crisis upon a hospital admission or a death and pets can be forgotten. Just having the conversation beforehand and having a plan in place can prevent your pets from being forgotten at home for days before someone remembers them.  Make sure someone close to you has a spare key and would know to go check on the pets if you were in the hospital or passed away unexpectedly.

Some may assume they don’t need to do any legal planning, because their family knows what their wishes are regarding their pets. While it is good to have a plan, private agreements alone often fall through. What happens if you agree your niece will take your dog, but at the time of your passing she lives in a no-pets-allowed apartment with a new baby and an allergic husband? What happens if both your sons think they are getting custody of your Siamese cat? A private agreement is not legally enforceable, and can leave your pets futures uncertain.


A will can have provisions that provide for what happens to your pets. A will can name an individual to inherit the pet, but just because you name that person, does not mean they are under any legal obligation to take the pet if they don’t want to. It may be better to allow the executor to decide who gets the pets and include stipulations that you would like your executor to consider. Do you want your pets to be kept together? Stay in the family? Have a back yard? You can add this all to a will but if terms are uncertain, the court may step in to make decisions.

Many people also include a monetary bequest to help entice a person to care for their pets and to help with costs. Keep in mind that the will only controls the initial distribution and does not monitor the long term care of your animals or the use of the money. If you leave the dog and ten-thousand dollars to your brother, he may take the dog and cash and then have the animal put down while he gambles in Vegas.

Wills can only do so much. In order to come into play, a will has to be probated, which it may not be if the rest of your estate passes outside of probate. There is also typically a waiting period while a will is being filed with the court and probated. Who will look after your pet during this period of time?

Pet Trusts

A pet trust can provide lasting protection for your pet. There are many benefits to a pet trust. First, you can name a trustee to control the money to be spent for your pet. This person does not have to be the same person who is caring for your pet. Appointing a different person to each role creates a system of checks and balances and further protects the pets from financial exploitation. For example if your sister is very bad with money but very good with animals, she can care for your pet and have your brother manage the money and pay her for the dog’s vet bills, food, and other costs.

You can also use the trust to instruct on how you would like your pet to be cared for. These instructions can be as detailed as possible to allow your pet to continue living in the manor they are accustomed. It can also ease the transition for new caregivers by knowing what routines your pet is used to. A trust allows for continued monitoring of the pet and the finances and can be used to shield against abuses. You can include requirements such as yearly vet visits, or backup trustees or guardians if the initial choice is unable to continue to care for your pet. Once your pet passes away you can leave any remaining money in the trust to your heirs or to charities.


Estate planning is the last act of love you can do for your family for when you’re gone. It is important to remember and plan for all members of your family including your four-legged friends. If you would like more information about how to protect your furry loved ones, call Williger Legal Group (330) 686-7777.