October is just around the corner, which means it’s time for our end-of-the-month collection of elder law news items. Some of the September roundup items challenge conventional assumptions about watchdogs, death at home, wealth taxes, and obituaries:
Do Watchdog Agencies Protect Us?
Many believe that if you lodge a complaint with a state agency about a safety issue, something will be done. A report out this month indicates that’s not the case with many nursing home complaints. The report (highlights here) found that the Arizona Department of Health Services allows complaints about nursing homes go uninvestigated for many months. As a result, “residents may be at risk.” The director counters that the report focuses on unrepresentative sample of cases (0.4% of complaints). But she admits it would be nice to have at lot more staff and millions more dollars to investigate the 2,500 annual complaints. Nursing home quality and oversight is a continuing problem still looking for solutions.
Should We All Want to Die at Home?
This New York Times essay asks the question from the get-go: “If time were short, where would you want to be?” The writer, a palliative care physician, says the answer is almost always at home. Many “advance directives,” including the ones most often prepared at Fleming & Curti, PLC, specify such a desire. But the doctor has mixed feelings about that. It’s not always possible, and, that’s probably OK, even preferable. Dying at home has downsides. Families often don’t consider or realize that caring for a dying loved one at home can take a brutal physical and emotional toll, and patients can find comfort in having medical assistance (like pain management) at the ready in a facility. In the end, the doctor notes, we may be placing too much focus on where someone dies and not enough on how – the quality and consistency of end-of-life care is what really matters.
Should the Rich Fear the Wealth Tax?
Two Democrats running for president (Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) have proposed taxes on citizens’ wealth. Both plans would tax households with more than $50 million in net worth annually – in addition to income tax. But such plans have problems, one of which is perhaps being unconstitutional. By contrast, the estate tax, aka “death tax,” is well-established as constitutional. It taxes transfers at death, assets passing from one generation to the next. That tax could be made more aggressive with much less controversy. Sanders and Warren have plans for that, too. Both involve lowering the estate tax exemption (now $11.4 million) to at least $3.5 million, increasing the tax rate from 40% to as much as 77%, and eliminating tax-avoidance strategies we estate planners love to employ. If the Dems take control, it’s likely the wealth tax will succumb to political and legal realities, and death tax will thrive.
Should Obituaries Always Be Stately and Reverent?
Any former newsroom person like me will confess to having a deep appreciation for the well-written obituary. One for the clip file came up this month: Joe Heller, 82, of Essex, Connecticut, whose particularly colorful personality was captured lovingly by his daughters. My favorite lines of may good ones: “No flowers, please. The family is seeking donations to offset the expense of publishing an exceedingly long obituary which would have really pissed Joe off. Seriously, what would have made him the happiest is for you to go have a cup of coffee with a friend and bullsh*t about his antics or play a harmless prank on some unsuspecting sap.” The obit “went viral,’ and that got coverage from many news outlets, including my former employer USA Today.
In other elder law news . . .
- Choosing who should manage your estate can be a challenge (don’t automatically choose a child!); this article mentions professional fiduciaries in California. We have those in Arizona, too, and Fleming & Curti is one.
- The largest survey ever on attitudes regarding dementia shows “a startling lack of knowledge” about the condition worldwide.
- Meanwhile, a study shows hearing aids may be a simple way to prevent dementia, depression, and falls.
- The battle over John Steinbeck’s copyrights may finally be over.
- Items owed by late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain will be auctioned off to create a scholarship in his memory. Previews begin Oct. 2.
Those are the highlights for the September roundup. See an interesting elder law news item? Let us know.