About Suzan Herskowitz

Posts by Suzan Herskowitz:

VIRGINIA – Trick or Treat Rules

Unless you are accompanying a child who is trick-or-treating, in some Virginia localities if you are over the age of 12, you are in violation of the law if you trick-or-treat! This could mean a fine or jail time.

While I cannot find any local ordinances for Winchester/Frederick County/Clarke County making trick-or-treat a violation of the law, local jurisdictions do set safety guidelines for trick-or-treat. For example, the Town of Stephens City has Halloween set from 5:30-8:30. The City of Winchester’s trick-or-treat is from dusk until 8:00. The Town of Berryville has set its Halloween hours from 6:00-8:30.

Virginia prohibits the use of a mask, hood, or other device by anyone over 16 years of age, in any public place, or in any private property without obtaining consent to do so from the owner or tenant. There are exceptions, which include wearing a traditional holiday costume, but because Halloween is on Wednesday this year, wearing a mask on the streets while on the way to a party or just wearing one in the streets in general this coming weekend will be a violation of the law, carrying a penalty of 1-5 years and a fine of up to $2500. 

Please! Don’t Wait Until You Have a Crisis – to get your affairs in order

It happened again today, as it does just about every week.

Someone called and needed to be seen today because a parent was having a health crisis. I had to tell this adult child that I didn’t have any openings for the rest of the week. While it’s good for me that business is good, it is not good for this family who will have to keep calling attorneys before finding someone that can squeeze them in at the last minute.

I have spent my entire career telling people, cajoling people, to get their estate documents and affairs in order before they needed to. But we know they don’t. Why do something today that you can put off until (they hope) “the 12th of never”.

How do we know people don’t get their affairs in order? As sad as it is to say, as Americans we are more diligent about our car checkups than we are about estate and financial affairs checkups. We know that statistically almost 60% of Americans don’t have any estate planning documents. None. That means that 6 out of every 10 Americans have no wills. More importantly, they have no medical directives (living wills, health care surrogate appointments, medical powers of attorney, for example) and they have no durable powers of attorney (for finances).

To put this into perspective, 10,000 Americans turn 65 each day in the United States. That’s 3.65 million people every single year.  That means that each year an additional 2 million or so people don’t have any estate planning documents completed. It doesn’t take a college degree to know that if you are over 65 years of age, you are likely to be met with some health-related issue sooner rather than later.

In a health crisis, I often must tell families that mom is no longer capable of signing a medical directive and must instead have an adult child appointed as mom’s guardian, a time-consuming and costly procedure. The family is already in turmoil over the health crisis. This is not welcome news.

So here I am again, begging you to have this conversation with your family – your adult children, your spouse, your significant other, your partner, your grandparents, your parents, your friends, your neighbors, and your colleagues. Please don’t wait until you have a crisis to take care of yourself and your family. Call an estate planning attorney and get your will, your medical directive, and your durable power of attorney completed before you need to. Think of it as insurance. You may never need to use it, but aren’t you glad you have it just in case you do.

© 2018 Suzan D. Herskowitz

Bill Gates Is Spending $50 Mil for Alzheimer’s Research

Bill Gates is investing $50 million of his personal funds for research into Alzheimer’s treatments. Many news sources have been posting articles about this recently. I saw something about it on the news yesterday also. I wanted to give you the link to Gate’s personal blog in which he explains why he is going to invest $50 mil of his own funds into Alzheimer’s research. The blog post also has a very compelling video which I am providing for you.

Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and affects more than 5 million people. That number does not include the family members affected because of a loved one’s Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, it has no cure and as Gates says “no meaningful treatment”.

In my business, I see many families in turmoil over an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. I applaud Gates for this investment.


I Was a Guest Blogger for Clutter Troops!

I am honored to have been asked to be a guest blogger for Clutter Troops Professional Organizers.

The blog post is one I’ve posted before but frankly, it is worth reading again. In this post, I wrote about cleaning out my father’s own home after his death and the sheer amount of “stuff” that had to be removed after years of accumulation.

Please look at the Clutter Troops website for more information about professional organizing and decluttering. In a nutshell, Clutter Troops help you get organized in your home or business and stay that way. In addition, they help people who are downsizing, as well as what I would call “outsizing” — getting a house ready for sale due to a move to a nursing or assisted living facility, or due to a death of the occupant.


New Social Security Phone Scam

There’s a new phone scam targeting seniors and it focuses on Social Security. Scammers have long been calling about our alleged IRS deficiencies. Now they are calling to inform you that you are entitled to a cost of living increase. The scammer then asks you to update your personal information, including your name, date of birth and Social Security Number.

Remember — the SSA NEVER calls to update personal information.

The real SSA already has this information so they don’t need to confirm it with you!!!

Hang up immediately if you receive such a call.

If you receive a suspicious call, call 800-269-0271 to report the call to the Office of the Inspector General, or report it online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report.

The SSA also has a toll-free customer service number (800-772-1213) for any questions you may have. It is operated Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-325-0778.

Nursing Homes Scrutinized Still Have Poor Care

I am republishing an article from Kaiser Health News which focuses on the problems with many nursing homes. This is not meant to vilify all nursing facilities. It is just meant to put a light on some of the issues that we face as our population ages and needs more institutional care. At the risk of offending my readers that are generally “less government” oriented, I would like to shine a light on why we need oversight and assistance from the government to prevent these things from happening. My own mother was a federally certified inspector of nursing facilities and assisted living facilities. The stories do not surprise me, however, I fear that we are going to decrease government oversight to our peril.

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Photo is from the article (Cheryl Powers fixes the hair of her mother, Elaine Fisher, at the Rehabilitation Center of Bakersfield in Bakersfield, Calif., where Fisher moved after problems at a previous home. She fractured a hip after slipping from a wheelchair. (Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times))


Virginia’s New Elective Share Law


January 1, 2017, Virginia Code § 64.2-308.1, et seq. changed. This law concerns the surviving spouse’s elective share of his or her deceased spouse’s estate.

Under the prior law, a spouse who died either intestate or who didn’t leave his or her spouse property (disinheritance), had a right to claim an elective share of the deceased spouse’s property. If a spouse had children from another relationship this often caused a great deal of anguish because the surviving spouse was entitled to only 1/3 of his or her spouse’s estate while the children (including adult children) received the remainder.

Under the new law however, a surviving spouse has a right to claim a percentage of 1/2 of the value of the marital property included in the augmented estate.  This includes: 1. The decedent’s net probate estate, 2. The decedent’s non-probate transfers to others, 3. The decedent’s non-probate transfers to the surviving spouse, and 4. The surviving spouse’s property and non-probate transfers to others.  This means that even the surviving spouse’s property is included in the calculation of the augmented estate. So the law essentially now includes ALL the property of the marriage, not just that property in the probate estate. This now includes property from revocable trusts and property by transfer on death and beneficiary-driven assets.

The statute also provides that while the surviving spouse can claim up to 50% of the augmented estate, it is now dependent upon how long the couple were married. No longer can a spouse of 3 months claim 1/3 of the deceased spouse’s estate. According to the statute, the value of the augmented estate is determined by a multiplier based upon how long the couple was married. For example, if the couple was married for less than 1 year, the multiplier is 3%. If they were married 9 years but less than 10 years, the multiplier is 54%. If the couple was married for more than 15 years, the multiplier is 100%. Then the surviving spouse is entitled to 50% of that figure.

Additionally, even if the principal family residence is involved in the augmented estate, the surviving spouse cannot be kicked out by the deceased spouse’s children while any action is being taken to determine what the elective share is and how to pay it. The surviving spouse may occupy and enjoy the residence without charge for rent, repairs, taxes or insurance. If the surviving spouse is deprived of possession, he or she may file a complaint with the court for unlawful entry or detainer and is entitled to recover possession and damages for the period of time he or she was deprived.

So what does this mean? It means that it is more important than ever to make sure you have your estate plan in order. Don’t assume that you are taken care of and that your spouse is taken care of. Planning is beyond important in this day and age of second and third marriages with children from prior marriages. I have personally seen how this negatively impacted long-term spouses. I have also seen how short-term marriages negatively impacted  inheritance by children. It leads to hurt feelings and lawsuits. A little planning can go a long way in curbing a negative outcome.



Repeal of Obamacare, Medicare and the “Donut Hole”

Approximately 57 million senior citizens and disabled Americans are currently enrolled in Medicare. I remind people that Medicare is health insurance for seniors and disabled Americans (as opposed to Medicaid, which is for a different purpose).

There is a great deal of talk that repeal of Obamacare will occur within the first 100 days of the incoming administration. This will have tremendous impact on Medicare.

It is estimated that if Obamacare is totally repealed and nothing is done to replace it, seniors will face higher premiums and deductibles for their Medicare Part B. This may impact those seniors on low and fixed incomes.

In addition, we will see the infamous “donut hole” in prescription drug coverage return. The donut hole is that time period under Medicare Part D in which there is a gap in coverage. During that gap, a senior is responsible for all of his or her prescription drug coverage. Under Obamacare, that “hole” or gap, has been closing.

Before 2010, seniors had to pay the full cost of their prescriptions while in the donut hole but under Obamacare, those costs were reduced so that in 2016, they only had to pay 45% of the cost of name brand drugs and 58% for generics while in the donut hole. In 2017, these copays were set to be 40% and 51% respectively.

According to The Commonwealth Fund, since  2010, 8 million seniors saved over $11.5 billion on prescription drugs due to gradual closing of the donut hole. The effect of the donut hole “growing” again due to the repeal of Obamacare will impact seniors that take a lot of medication and/or expensive medication. Cancer drugs for example are very expensive.

I encourage you to study all you can about how total repeal of Obamacare will affect you or your loved ones and take the appropriate steps to protect yourself or them.


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