All posts by cconboy

Medicaid law imposes a penalty period if you transferred assets within five years of applying, but what if the transfers had nothing to do with Medicaid? It is difficult to do, but if you can prove you made the transfers for a purpose other than to qualify for Medicaid, you can avoid a penalty.

You are not supposed to move into a nursing home on Monday, give all your money away on Tuesday, and qualify for Medicaid on Wednesday. So the government looks back five years for any asset transfers, and levies a penalty on people who transferred assets without receiving fair value in return. This penalty is a period of time during which the person transferring the assets will be ineligible for Medicaid. The penalty period is determined by dividing the amount transferred by what Medicaid determines to be the average private pay cost of a nursing home in your state.

The penalty period can seem very unfair to someone who made gifts without thinking about the potential for needing Medicaid. For example, what if you made a gift to your daughter to help her through a hard time? If you unexpectedly fall ill and need Medicaid to pay for long-term care, the state will likely impose a penalty period based on the transfer to your daughter.

To avoid a penalty period, you will need to prove that you made the transfer for a reason other than qualifying for Medicaid. The burden of proof is on the Medicaid applicant and it can be difficult to prove. The following evidence can be used to prove the transfer was not for Medicaid planning purposes:

The Medicaid applicant was in good health at the time of the transfer. It is important to show that the applicant did not anticipate needing long-term care at the time of the gift.
-The applicant has a pattern of giving. For example, the applicant has a history of helping his or her children when they are in need or giving annual gifts to family or charity.
-The applicant had plenty of other assets at the time of the gift. An applicant giving away all of his or her money would be evidence that the applicant was anticipating the need for Medicaid.
-The transfer was made for estate planning purposes or on the advice of an accountant.

Proving that a transfer was made for a purpose other than to qualify for Medicaid is difficult. If you innocently made transfers in the past and are now applying for Medicaid, consult with the attorneys Zacharia Brown to see if we can help.

For more information on Medicaid Rules and Elder Law Planning, please contact the attorneys at Zacharia Brown. You may schedule an appointment by visiting our website at or by calling 724.942.6200.



A new federal law is designed to address the growing problem of elder abuse. The law supports efforts to better understand, prevent, and combat both financial and physical elder abuse.

The prevalence of elder abuse is hard to calculate because it is underreported, but according to the National Council on Aging, approximately 1 in 10 Americans age 60 or older have experienced some form of elder abuse. In 2011, a MetLife study estimated that older Americans are losing $2.9 billion annually to elder financial abuse.

The bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act of 2017 authorizes the Department of Justice (DOJ) to take steps to combat elder abuse. Under the new law, the federal government must do the following:
–  Create an elder justice coordinator position in federal judicial districts, at the DOJ, and at the Federal Trade Commission;
–  Implement comprehensive training on elder abuse for Federal Bureau of Investigation agents;
–  Operate a resource group to assist prosecutors in pursuing elder abuse cases.

The law requires the DOJ to collect data on elder abuse and investigations as well as provide training and support to states to fight elder abuse. The law specifically targets email fraud by expanding the definition of telemarketing fraud to include email fraud. Prohibited actions include email solicitations for investment for financial profit, participation in a business opportunity, or commitment to a loan.

As ElderLawAnswers has previously reported, flaws in the guardianship system have led to elder abuse. The law enables the government to provide demonstration grants to states’ highest courts to assess adult guardianship and conservatorship proceedings and implement changes.

“Exploiting and defrauding seniors is cowardly, and these crimes should be addressed as the reprehensible acts they are,” said Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a co-sponsor of the legislation, adding that the legislation “sends a clear signal from Congress that combating elder abuse and exploitation should be top priority for law enforcement.”

For more information about the law, click here and here.

For more information on Elder Law Planning and Protections for your loved one, please contact the attorneys at Zacharia Brown. You may schedule an appointment by visiting our website at or by calling 724.942.6200.



After staying the same for five years, the amount you can give away to any one individual in a particular year without reporting the gift increased in 2018.

The annual gift tax exclusion for 2018 rose from $14,000 to $15,000. This means that any person who gives away $15,000 or less to any one individual (anyone other than their spouse) does not have to report the gift or gifts to the IRS.

If you give away more than $15,000, you do not necessary have to pay taxes, but you will have to file a gift tax return (Form 709). The IRS allows individuals to give away a total of $5.6 million and couples $11.2 million (in 2018) during their lifetimes before a gift tax is owed. This $5.6 million exclusion means that even if you have to file a gift tax return (Form 709) because you gave away more than $15,000 to any one person in a particular year, you will owe taxes only if you have given away more than a total of $5.6 million (or $11.2 million) in the past. As a result, the filing of a gift tax return is merely a formality for nearly everyone.

The gift tax also applies to property other than money, such as stock. If you give away property that is worth more than $15,000 you have to report that on your gift return.

Note that gifts to a spouse are usually not subject to any federal gift taxes as long as the spouse is a U.S. citizen. If your spouse is not a U.S. citizen, you can give only $152,000 without reporting the gift (in 2018). Anything over that amount has to be reported on the gift tax return. Also, you do not need to report tax deductible gifts made to charities on a gift tax return unless you retain some interest in the gifted property.

With the increase in the gift tax, the amount you can give to an ABLE account is also increasing to $15,000. ABLE accounts allow people with disabilities and their families to save up to $100,000 in accounts for disability related expenses without jeopardizing their eligibility for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and other government benefits.

For more information on Elder Law Planning and Gifting, please contact the attorneys at Zacharia Brown. You may schedule an appointment by visiting our website at or by calling 724.942.6200.



This week we are happy to share with you a guest blog post from the Tuck Sleep Foundation.

The elderly often suffer from more sleep disturbances than their younger counterparts, but those with dementia struggle from sleep loss even more than average. Those with dementia are far more likely to experience daytime sleepiness, wandering during the night, confusion, and sun-downing (a growing agitation as the sun sets). A bedtime routine can help decrease confusion and agitation, so it’s easier to fall asleep. A routine can also help regulate the circadian rhythms, which tend to fluctuate with age.

Normal changes in the body due to aging increase the chances of sleep disturbances. Circadian rhythms, those biological cycles everyone repeats on a daily basis, largely control the sleep-wake cycle. Those rhythms rely heavily on the eyes absorbing natural light and sending the appropriate signals to the brain to trigger the release of sleep-inducing hormones.

As the eyes age, they become less sensitive to light, which means they can’t send the right signals. Consequently, the sleep-wake cycle may get altered in the elderly. Dementia, which affects the brain, causes these sleep problems even more. People with dementia also experience less REM sleep, more instances of sleep apnea, chronic snoring, insomnia, and other sleep disorders. These disturbances lead to sleep deprivation and stress for both the elderly person and his or her caregivers.

Along with disturbances during the night, falling asleep can be a challenge for those with dementia. Sundowning and night wakings are frequent, can be frightening, and lead to added stress. Developing a good bedtime routine can help calm confusion and fear to set the stage for a higher quantity and quality of sleep.

The Right Setting
Dementia often leaves the elderly frightened and confused in the dim lighting of the evening. The bedroom should be kept clutter free with plenty of nightlights in case of night waking. A comfortable sleep environment with a supportive mattress topper and a cozy pillow can help cut down on waking due to aches and pains. If the elderly person has mobility issues, you might want to consider a low-profile bed or frame with rails to prevent falls and give support during the night.

Consistent Bedtime Routine
Start the bedtime routine at the same time every day. Predictability helps establish the circadian rhythms and calm the mind while cutting down on confusion. As you develop a routine, find calming activities like a warm bath, warm cup of milk, or reading to trigger the sleep-wake cycle. Perform the activities in the same order each night. As you progress through the routine, the brain recognizes the routine and can better release hormones at the appropriate time.

Develop Other Sleep-Promoting Habits
Stimulants like the caffeine found in coffee and soda can keep the mind buzzing long after bedtime. These types of drinks should be avoided for at least four hours prior to the start of the bedtime routine. Alcohol, which can make you feel sleepy at first, often causes disturbances in the middle of the sleep cycle and should be avoided. Try to eat a light, healthy dinner early in the evening to prevent discomfort that may lead to sleeplessness.

Alicia Sanchez is a researcher for the sleep science hub with a specialty in health and wellness. A Nashville native, Alicia finds the sound of summer storms so soothing that she still sleeps with recorded rain on her white noise machine.

For more information on Elder Law Planning and Support, please contact the attorneys at Zacharia Brown. You may schedule an appointment by visiting our website at or by calling 724.942.6200.



Older parents are becoming more common, driven in part by changing cultural mores and surrogate motherhood. Comedian and author Steve Martin had his first child at age 67. Singer Billy Joel just welcomed his third daughter. Janet Jackson had a child at age 50. But later-in-life parents have some special estate planning and retirement considerations.

The first consideration is to make sure you have an estate plan and that the estate plan is up to date. One of the most important functions of an estate plan is to name a guardian for your children in your will, and this goes double for a parent having children late in life. If you don’t name someone to act as guardian, the court will choose the guardian. Because the court doesn’t know your kids like you do, the person they choose may not be ideal.

In addition to naming a guardian, you may also want to set up a trust for your children so that your assets are set aside for them when they get older. If the child is the product of a second marriage, a trust may be particularly important. A trust can give your spouse rights, but allow someone else — the trustee — the power to manage the property and protect it for the next generation. If you have older children, a trust could, for example, provide for a younger child’s college education and then divide the remaining amount among all the children.

Another consideration is retirement savings. Financial advisors generally recommend prioritizing saving for your own retirement over saving for college because students have the ability to borrow money for college while it is tougher to borrow for retirement. One advantage of being an older parent is that you may be more financially stable, making it easier to save for both. Also, if you are retired when your children go to college, they may qualify for more financial aid. Older parents should make sure they have a high level of life insurance and extend term policies to last through the college years.

When to take Social Security is another consideration. Children can receive benefits on a parent’s work record if the parent is receiving benefits too. To be eligible, the child must be under age 18, under age 19 but still in elementary school or high school, or over age 18 but have become mentally or physically disabled prior to age 22. Children generally receive an amount equal to one-half of the parent’s primary insurance amount (PIA), up to a “family maximum” benefit. You will need to calculate whether the child’s benefit makes it worth it to collect benefits early rather than wait to collect at your full retirement age or at age 70.

For more information on Estate Planning, please contact the attorneys at Zacharia Brown. You may schedule an appointment by visiting our website at or by calling 724.942.6200.



Medicare is supposed to provide up to 35 hours a week of home care to those who qualify, but many Medicare patients with chronic conditions are being wrongly denied such care, according to Kaiser Health News. For a variety of reasons, many home health care agencies are simply telling patients they are not covered.

Medicare is mandated to cover home health benefits indefinitely. In addition, Medicare is required to cover skilled nursing and home care even if a patient has a chronic condition. Unfortunately, many home health providers are not aware of the law and tell home health care patients that they must show improvement in order to receive benefits.

According to a Kaiser Health News article, confusion over whether or not improvement is required (it is not) is one part of the problem. Another issue is that home health care workers are afraid they will not get paid if they take on long-term care patients. In an effort to crack down on fraud, Medicare is more likely to audit providers who provide long-term care. This encourages providers to favor patients who need short-term care.

In addition, Medicare’s Home Health Compare ratings website may be having a negative effect on home health care agencies’ willingness to provide for long-term care patients. One measure of care qualification is whether a patient is improving. Because patients with chronic conditions don’t necessarily improve, they could lower an agency’s rating. Also, under a rule that just went into effect, home health care agencies cannot dismiss a patient without a doctor’s note. This may make agencies even more reluctant to take on long-term care patients.

If you are wrongly denied Medicare home health benefits, you can appeal, although you may have to be persistent to get coverage. To learn more about Medicare coverage for home health care and other elder law issues, please contact the attorneys at Zacharia Brown. You may schedule an appointment by visiting our website at or by calling 724.942.6200.



With the new year officially underway, we have been busy with lots of exciting developments at Zacharia Brown! We have been working to develop new ways to reach out to our clients, long term care communities, nursing homes, elder care partners and others who are seeking information on Elder Law issues. Here are just some of the things we are rolling out for 2018.

Good LTC
GoodLTC is a ground-breaking communication forum for those who work in and service long term care communities.  It is a place where members of the industry can go to share concerns, collaborate on problems, and seek answers to questions. You can visit the forum to get the latest information in the industry and you will also have the option to send and receive emails on topics relevant to your specific group. We have created GoodLTC as a place to collaborate, share information and ideas, ask and answer questions, work together as a group and help one another. This is a FREE service that Zacharia Brown is sponsoring for our partners in the industry, For more information and to sign up, visit

Care & Share
In February, Zacharia Brown will begin hosting a brand new Support Group at each of our offices. We envision this group as an intimate, no cost, open forum where individuals can offer support, stories and advice to others who are currently dealing with elder care issues, as well as those who may need assistance in the future. These groups will meet once a month (per office) on Fridays and are designed to help address questions regarding care coordination, ongoing health issues, planning needs and other elder care topics.  Zacharia Brown will provide a meeting space and facilitate these groups each month so that members can share valuable information and personal experiences with one another. Please contact us at 724-942-6200 if you would like to attend a group or for more information.
February’s Care & Share schedule is as follows: Versailles/McKeesport Office:  Friday, February 16th at 1:00pm McMurray Office:  Friday, February 23rd at 1:00pm

Radio Shows and Wednesday’s Weekly Wisdom
In 2018, there are now 6 times a month for you to tune in and hear Zacharia Brown share information and discuss important topics in Elder Care and Long Term Care Planning. First, on KDKA, you can listen to our call-in show on the third Tuesday of every month. We have also started hosting a weekly radio show on 94.5 3WS FM which airs every Sunday morning from 7:30am-8:00am where we share current developments, tools and stories to help you navigate the maze of planning and paying for long-term care. Lastly, we have a new one minute segment on KDKA called Wednesday’s Weekly Wisdom with Zacharia Brown. The segment will air once a week on Wednesdays throughout the month between 3:00pm and 7:00 PM. and will allow us to share helpful tips on Elder issues.

Our Weekly Blog is Back with a Twist!
This year, to supplement the information we share through our weekly blogs, we will be inviting guest bloggers to contribute to the posts on our website, Facebook and Twitter.

As always, we will be conducting many seminars throughout the year for the general public and for partner organizations that we work with in the arena of Elder and Long Term Care Planning. Visit our website at to view all of our upcoming seminars and events.

To learn more about Elder Law issues and discuss long term care planning strategies, please contact the attorneys at Zacharia Brown. You may schedule an appointment by visiting our website at or by calling 724.942.6200.



In 2018, Social Security recipients will get their largest cost of living increase in benefits since 2012, but the additional income will likely be largely eaten up by higher Medicare Part B premiums.

Cost of living increases are tied to the consumer price index, and an upturn in inflation rates and gas prices means recipients get a small boost in 2018, amounting to $27 a month for the typical retiree. The 2 percent increase is higher than last year’s .3 percent rise and the lack of any increase at all in 2016. The cost of living change also affects the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax, which will grow from $127,200 to $128,700.

The increase in benefits will likely be consumed by higher Medicare premiums, however. Most elderly and disabled people have their Medicare Part B premiums deducted from their monthly Social Security checks. For these individuals, if Social Security benefits don’t rise, Medicare premiums can’t either. 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. In the past few years, Medicare beneficiaries not subject to the hold harmless provision have been paying higher Medicare premiums while Medicare premiums for those in the hold harmless group remained more or less the same. Now that seniors will be getting an increase in Social Security payments, Medicare will likely hike premiums for the seniors in the hold harmless group. And that increase may eat up the entire raise, at least for some beneficiaries.

For 2018, the monthly federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment standard will be $750 for an individual and $1,125 for a couple.

To learn more about Elder Law issues and discuss planning strategies, please contact the attorneys at Zacharia Brown. You may schedule an appointment by visiting our website at or by calling 724.942.6200.



Are you happy with your current Medicare plan or plans? Now is the time to think about whether you are in the right plan or whether a new plan could save you money. Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, in which you can enroll in or switch plans, runs from October 15 to December 7.

During this period you may enroll in a Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan or, if you currently have a plan, you may change plans. In addition, during the seven-week period you can return to traditional Medicare (Parts A and B) from a Medicare Advantage (Part C, managed care) plan, enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, or change Advantage plans. Beneficiaries can go to or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to make changes in their Medicare prescription drug and health plan coverage.

Even beneficiaries who have been satisfied with their plans in 2017 need to review their choices for 2018. Be sure to carefully look over the plan’s “Annual Notice of Change” letter. Prescription drug plans can change their premiums, deductibles, the list of drugs they cover, and their plan rules for covered drugs, exceptions, and appeals. Medicare Advantage plans can change their benefit packages, as well as their provider networks.

Remember that fraud perpetrators will inevitably use the Open Enrollment Period to try to gain access to individuals’ personal financial information. Medicare beneficiaries should never give their personal information out to anyone making unsolicited phone calls to sell Medicare-related products and services or to someone who shows up on their doorstep uninvited. If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud or identity theft, contact Medicare. For more information on Medicare fraud, click here.

Here are more resources for navigating the Open Enrollment Period:

To learn more about Medicare Open Enrollment and discuss Elder Law planning options, please contact the attorneys at Zacharia Brown. You may schedule an appointment by visiting our website at or by calling 724.942.6200.



The median cost of a private nursing home room in the United States has increased to $97,455 a year, up 5.5 percent from 2016, according to Genworth’s 2017 Cost of Care survey, which the insurer conducts annually. Genworth reports that the median cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is $85,775, up 4.44 percent from 2016. The rise in prices is much larger than the 1.24 percent and 2.27 percent gains, respectively, in 2016.

The price rise was slightly less for assisted living facilities, where the median rate rose 3.36 percent, to $3,750 a month. The national median rate for the services of a home health aide was $22 an hour, up from $20 in 2016, and the cost of adult day care, which provides support services in a protective setting during part of the day, rose from $68 to $70 a day.

Alaska continues to be the costliest state for nursing home care, with the median annual cost of a private nursing home room totaling $292,000. Oklahoma again was found to be the most affordable state, with a median annual cost of a private room of $63,510.

In Pennsylvania, the the median cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home in 2017 is $9,277 a month or $111.324 annually, That figure increases to $10,007 a month or $120,084 a year for a resident in a private room.  As for other types of care, the statewide average cost for an Assisted Living community in Pennsylvania is $3,650 a month or $43,800 per year. Pennsylvania residents can also expect to pay an average rate of $22/hr for Home Care Services and an average of $62 per day for Adult Day Care at a health facility.

The 2017 survey was based on responses from more than 15,000 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult day health facilities and home care providers. The survey was conducted by phone during May and June of 2017.

As the survey indicates, nursing home and other elder care options continue to increase annually, with care becoming more and more expensive. Because of this, it is extremely important to consult with the experienced and knowledgeable attorneys of Zacharia Brown to learn more about protecting your assets, available benefits and all planning options that may be available to you or a loved one. You may schedule an appointment by visiting our website at or by calling 724.942.6200.

For more information regarding specific state by state costs in Genworth’s 2017 Cost of Care Survey, click here.