Our Top 20 Articles of 2020

2020 2021

Last year (2020) was quite a year and, like most people, I am glad to see it go! Those who read our newsletter or follow our blog know that we covered a lot of ground during this challenging year. COVID-19 uprooted many areas of life. COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes were and still are a reason for worry, but much has been done to effectively deal with these issues, including, of course, two newly-released vaccines last month.

Beginning in March 2020, the CARES Act helped seniors, small businesses, and others during the coronavirus pandemic. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was also instated as an emergency aid package that Congress approved amid the coronavirus outbreak, including $250 million for senior nutrition programs. The Paycheck Protection Program also provided $525 billion to more than 5 million recipients, with loans that could be fully forgiven if the businesses spent at least 60% of the proceeds on payroll costs. The first iteration of the PPP was a success with tens of thousands of businesses receiving hundreds of billions of dollars that went toward keeping people in their jobs. The second iteration was approved last week.

In addition, this past year, the federal estate tax exemption increased to $11.7 in 2021 (up from $11.58 million in 2020). If you are fortunate enough to have such a large estate, the amount in excess of the exemption will be taxed at 40%. On the gift tax side, the annual gift tax exclusion amount remains at $15,000 for gifts made in 2021, so you can gift up to $15,000 to each recipient without having to file any gift tax return or declare any gift.

Many new findings in dementia and Alzheimer’s research were also uncovered this year. Click here to read about some of them!

To celebrate the new year, we’ve ranked our 20 most popular articles from 2020. Check out the list to see the year’s highlights and remind yourself of the most important issues of the past year and tell us what you’d like to see next year. And as always, thank you for reading our newsletter and blog! We are here to educate and to make a positive difference in your life and the lives of those you love.

20. Ten of the Most Common Myths About Long-term Care: In an article in The Washington Post, writer Howard Gleckman discusses the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to reform the US long-term-care system. He discusses five myths about long-term care that are often believed to be true. In this article, we expose the truth about these and five other popular myths.

19. Virginia, Maryland, and DC Now Allow Visitors in Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities:  Nursing homes had been hit very hard by coronavirus throughout the pandemic. In June 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) clarified federal guidance on reopening nursing homes to visitors. In late July 2020, thirty states and the District of Columbia were given the go-ahead to nursing home visits, according to LeadingAge, an association of long-term care providers. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia were similarly planning to allow visits at assisted living centers.

18. Maryland Repealed Filial Responsibility Laws. What’s Going on in Virginia?: Maryland repealed its filial responsibility law back in 2017. DC does not have a filial responsibility law. However, Virginia does have a filial responsibility law. Virginia Code Section 20-88 was enacted in 1920. It imposes an obligation on persons 18 years of age or older, to provide for the support and maintenance of his or her mother or father, if: (1) after reasonably providing for his own immediate family, the child is of sufficient earning capacity or income, and (2) the parent is then and there in destitute or necessitous circumstances. Virginia is still one of 30 states that still have filial responsibility laws, and there is no movement offered to change this.

17. Is There a New Genetic Form of Dementia?: Researchers at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, discovered a new and rare genetic form of dementia, which they have called vacuolar tauopathy (VT). Where Alzheimer’s disease is focused on memory issues early in the disease, VT primarily affects behavioral, language and executive problems instead. Scientists are excited about this discovery, as it sheds light on a new pathway that leads to protein build up in the brain, which could be targeted for new therapies.

16. Does a Loved One Have Undiagnosed Dementia?: Nearly 10 million people are diagnosed with dementia every year. That translates to one person every three seconds. Yet, many people with symptoms of dementia are not diagnosed, and they perhaps should have been. This is one of the reasons why research dubs dementia as an under-diagnosed disease.

15. Why Estate Planning is Even More Important During a Pandemic (Part 1 of a 3-part Series): Most of us are still not prepared for the implications of a global pandemic, including when it comes to the potential fallout from not having incapacity planning and estate planning documents in place. In part 1 of this three-part series, I discussed why estate planning is of vital importance during this global pandemic.

14. How a 104-year-old Survived Coronavirus: William Lapschies, a 104-year-old World War II veteran, recovered from coronavirus, making him the oldest survivor of the pandemic in the United States. Two others in their 100’s also survived–one in Italy and one in China. This article describes how.

13. Electronic Wills: Replacing Ink Signatures with Digital Ones: An electronic will allows a person to create and execute a will without leaving the comfort of their home, and without the need for paper. The Uniform Electronic Wills Act was promulgated to address the formation, validity, and recognition of electronic wills. Right now Virginia requires persons signing a will to sign or acknowledge it “in the presence” of witnesses and vice versa. This has generally been interpreted to mean in the “physical presence.” Find out how the new uniform act (once passed) will promote easier access to wills.

12. Coronavirus in DC Area and Other Illnesses that Cause People to Cough: What it Means for Seniors: If you’re near someone coughing, don’t panic and assume that they have the coronavirus (but of course it’s still important to wear a mask and keep your distance). There are many common non-contagious illnesses that result in occasional or even chronic coughing. Post-nasal drip, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, seasonal and chemical allergies are examples of non-contagious illnesses that that cause coughing. Lesser-known syndromes such as bronchiectasis also cause people to have a chronic cough. Learn more in this article.

11. Do Middle Class People Set Up Trust Funds?: When many of us think of trust funds for children, an image of wealthy, over-privileged teenagers driving fancy cars, attending expensive private schools, and spending summers traveling overseas come to mind. But these days, that’s a stereotype with little basis in fact. Trust funds can be powerful estate planning tools for families from all sorts of socioeconomic backgrounds.

10. One Vital Step This Doctor Wishes Everyone Would Take: Dr. Asha Shajahan, a fellow at Harvard University, is a primary care physician who is treating inpatient and outpatient COVID-19 patients as well as homeless people who may have the virus. She and I are certainly on the same page when it comes to the need for incapacity planning, particularly at this uncertain time! Whether you are 25 or 85 or somewhere in between, there is no better time than the present to get your estate planning and incapacity planning in place.

9. If You Needed a Ventilator, Would You Really Want One?: Health care providers have expressed concern that anxious Americans and prospective patients don’t really understand what is involved with going on and then coming off a ventilator. They believe that this understanding is necessary when deciding what you would want should you become seriously ill and the device is offered. Ventilators have been helpful in saving the lives of many people with COVID-19, but are they worth the discomfort and long-term effects when they don’t always work and there may be other less extreme options?

8. How Taxes Work if You Have a Paid In-Home Caregiver: Clients often wonder if the professional in-home caregiver they hired would be a W-2 employee or a 1099 independent contractor. The answer is if an individual employee is a home caregiver, they are a W-2 employee. On the other hand, if the caregiver hires a legitimate company, then the company is required to issue W-2s to its employees. This article explains why you want to do this correctly.

7. When You Inherit Unexpectedly: Whether due to the untimely death of a loved one, or because you were a named beneficiary and didn’t know it, the unplanned event may prompt uncertainty about how to handle the assets. This article provides tips for those who inherit unexpectedly.

6. Now May Be a Good Time to withdraw $100K from Your Retirement Accounts, Penalty-Free!: If you’re out of work and need income due to the coronavirus pandemic, withdrawing from your retirement savings may be a wise idea at this time. Normally, if you withdraw money from a traditional Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA) or an employer-provided retirement account before reaching age 59½, you have to pay a 10% penalty for early withdrawal, but changes to IRS rules that are in effect in 2020 only eliminate that penalty, and there may still be time.

5. Part D Donut Hole is Closed, But Does That Mean It’s Going Away?: In 2020, big changes came for the Medicare donut hole as the U.S. Congress attempted to close the coverage gap. What are these changes and how may they affect you? This article examines this subject and ways to reduce your prescription costs.

4. Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Affect Social Security?: Social Security is a popular program relied on by 69 million Americans. According to the annual Social Security and Medicare Trustees’ Report released in April, even if the Social Security Old Age and Survivor Fund is low in 2035, this does not mean the end of Social Security. Here’s what else the Trustees Report has to say.

3. When a Pandemic Makes You Feel Like an Inmate: Millions of people, alongside worrying about an unfamiliar and fast-moving pandemic, are also wondering how to care for and connect with parents, grandparents, spouses, and other loved ones who are being required to isolate. Loneliness is particularly dangerous for seniors. How do you stay connected when people (especially seniors) are supposed to be practicing social distancing?

2. When the Inheritance You Left Isn’t Wanted: Janet Reno, the nation’s first-ever female attorney general, died a little over four years ago following a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Ms. Reno was born and raised in a small cottage home her mother built with her own hands in the 1940’s in Miami, Florida. Little did Ms. Reno know that her childhood home would not be wanted by the university she left it to and her lack of a documented “plan b” would be the cause of family tension in the years following her death.

And our top read article for 2020 is

Drumroll please!

1. Groundbreaking Decision Made on Observation Status Appeals: Hundreds of thousands of Medicare beneficiaries have been denied coverage for nursing home stays because their status in the hospital was   “observation status” and not “inpatient status.” Now, after a ruling from a federal judge earlier this year, these patients can appeal to Medicare for reimbursement.

Thank you for making these our top 20 stories of 2020. We promise many new and exciting things to come in 2021! As always, if you or a loved one are nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, or if you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, Retirement Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your planning documents reviewed in the past several years), please call us for an initial consultation. Happy New Year!

Elder Law Fairfax: 703-691-1888
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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.