Nov 01

Brent Howard honored with Pro Bono award

Brent Howard was recently awarded the Legal Aid of Oklahoma Pro Bono Service Award for 2017. The award was given to two attorneys from the state of Oklahoma who serve their community.

Of the award, Mr. Howard said, “I am very thankful for the recognition. I have always been taught that when you are given much, much is expected of you. I like to think that I live by that principle and I always try to do my best to serve my community.”

In addition to his estate planning and tax law practice in Altus, Oklahoma, Mr. Howard also serves as the State Vice President of the Young Farmers and Ranchers, serves as Chairman of the Board of Regents for Western Oklahoma State College, serves his local church, Altus First United Methodist, is a member of the Altus Military Affairs Committee, and is active in the local Bar Association.

The full release from Legal Aid Services can be found here.

Sep 29

As the Cost of Nursing Home Care Rises, Oklahoma comes in Most Affordable

Genworth recently completed its Cost of Care Survey for 2017 and the results are in. From 2016 to 2017 the median rate of costs for nursing homes increased by 5.5%.

The monthly National Median Cost for Assisted Living is $3,750. Oklahoma’s Median Cost for Assisted Living is $3,033. (Alaska has the highest cost at $6,000/month.) I have found that rural areas such as ours tend to cost about $2,400 per month.

The monthly National Median Cost for Nursing Home care is $7,148 (semi-private room) and $8,121 (private room). Oklahoma’s Median Cost for Nursing Home Care is $4,471 (semi-private room) and $5,293 (private room). (Alaska has the highest cost at $24,333/month.) Our rural area tends to cost about $4,800 per month for private room.

Even though our state of Oklahoma is the most affordable state in the nation, when you calculate this for one year of care (12 months), you can see that average nursing home costs exceed $60,000.

As you look at your individual finances and think about your retirement, does your plan have the flexibility to cover these costs, should you require such care or assistance? Have you looked into alternative sources of funding such care, such as long-term care insurance or Medicaid planning? If you would like to discuss such options, then call your friendly southwest Oklahoma estate planning attorney, Brent Howard at 580-318-8829.

Oct 23

No COLA increase for Social Security

From an email I received from an advisor to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services:

For only the third time in 40 years, the nation’s elderly and disabled Social Security recipients will not receive an increase in benefit payments next year.  However, as a direct result of this about 30 percent of Medicare are facing a staggering 52 percent increase in their Part B premiums and all beneficiaries will see a similar hike in their deductible unless Congress or the administration acts to change things.

With consumer prices down over the past year, in large part thanks to low gas prices, there is no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), meaning that monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 65 million Americans will stay at 2015 levels for 2016.  The average monthly Social Security retirement payment will remain $1,328 a month for individuals and $2,176 for couples. The maximum Social Security benefit for a worker retiring at full retirement age, which is age 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954, will also stay at $2,663 a month.

Other figures remain at 2015 levels as well, including the maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security taxation and the income thresholds determining benefit reductions for those who retire early but still earn some income.  The monthly federal SSI payment standard will remain $733 for an individual and $1,100 for a couple.

Given the lack of a COLA adjustment for the nation’s elderly and disabled, some are calling for a re-thinking of how the cost of living for Social Security recipients is calculated.  It is currently based on the cost of a market basket of goods and services purchased by working people, who are younger and spend less on health care, which rises faster than inflation. Reuters columnist Mark Miller suggests changing the inflation gauge used for the COLA to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), which reflects the greater role of health care costs in spending by seniors.

Medicare’s Unlucky 30 Percent

The fact that Social Security benefits are not rising means that most Social Security recipients who are also Medicare beneficiaries will not see an increase in their Part B premium, which has held steady at $104.90 since 2013.  By law, if Social Security benefits don’t rise, Medicare’s premiums can’t, either.  But this “hold harmless” provision does not apply to about 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries: those enrolled in Medicare but who are not yet receiving Social Security, new Medicare beneficiaries, seniors earning more than $85,000 a year, and “dual eligibles” who get both Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

These unprotected Medicare beneficiaries are currently looking at their monthly Part B premium jumping to $159.30, while some high-income retirees could pay as much as $509.80 a month.  In addition, the Part B deductible for all beneficiaries would rise to $223 next year, from $147 in 2015.

Why are premiums going up so precipitously for these 30 percent of beneficiaries?  Because another law says that premiums must cover increases in Medicare costs.  With 70 percent of Medicare recipients shielded from any premium increase because Social Security benefits are not rising, the entire obligation of paying for the increased Medicare costs is falling on the other 30 percent who are not protected from premium increases.

If you are on a fixed income, or if you are looking for your parents, then these issues will be front and center as you make decisions for the next year. Now may be the time to plan for your estate as well as those long-term care costs. If you mention this post, I will give you a complimentary consultation to discuss your estate planning needs.

Oct 01

Gay Couples and Common Law Marriage

This is something I had thought about a while ago, but two recent things just brought it to the front of my mind. The most recent was this article at Legal Insurrection (one of my favorite sites) which talks about the unintended consequences of the recent Supreme Court ruling mandating recognition of gay marriages across the U.S. The other thought I had was research on common law marriage in Oklahoma.

Putting the two together, it is highly likely that some same-spouse partners in Oklahoma could already be living as married couples without a marriage license.

For common law marriage to be recognized in Oklahoma, there are five “elements” considered by the Oklahoma Courts when determining the validity of a common law marriage. These are:

  1. An actual and mutual agreement between the spouses to be spouses.
  2.  A permanent relationship.
  3. An exclusive relationship.
  4. Cohabitation as a married couple.
  5. The couple must hold themselves out publicly as spouses.

As the article linked above says, “Call your lawyer” if you have been in a same sex relationship as there are likely benefits or obligations that now flow through your relationship due to the Obergefell v. Hodges decision.

Sep 30

Drought-Stricken Farmers and Ranchers Have More Time to Replace Livestock

From the IRS, but I know that this applies to a few clients of mine, so I wanted to re-post here:

WASHINGTON — Farmers and ranchers who previously were forced to sell livestock due to drought, like the drought currently affecting much of the nation, have an extended period of time in which to replace the livestock and defer tax on any gains from the forced sales, the Internal Revenue Service announced today.

Farmers and ranchers who due to drought sell more livestock than they normally would may defer tax on the extra gains from those sales. To qualify, the livestock generally must be replaced within a four-year period. The IRS is authorized to extend this period if the drought continues.

The one-year extension of the replacement period announced today generally applies to capital gains realized by eligible farmers and ranchers on sales of livestock held for draft, dairy or breeding purposes due to drought. Sales of other livestock, such as those raised for slaughter or held for sporting purposes, and poultry are not eligible.

The IRS is providing this relief to any farm located in a county, parish, city, borough, census area or district, listed as suffering exceptional, extreme or severe drought conditions by the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), during any weekly period between Sept. 1, 2014, and Aug. 31, 2015. All or part of 48 states and Puerto Rico are listed. Any county contiguous to a county listed by the NDMC also qualifies for this relief.

As a result, farmers and ranchers in these areas whose drought sale replacement period was scheduled to expire at the end of this tax year, Dec. 31, 2015, in most cases, will now have until the end of their next tax year. Because the normal drought sale replacement period is four years, this extension immediately impacts drought sales that occurred during 2011. But because of previous drought-related extensions affecting some of these localities, the replacement periods for some drought sales before 2011 are also affected. Additional extensions will be granted if severe drought conditions persist.