What is COLA and How Does it Impact Me?

What is COLA and How Does it Impact Me?

How familiar are you with the Social Security program? As we start a New Year, it is critical for Florida seniors to understand as much as possible about their government  benefits. COLA is an acronym for “Cost of Living Adjustment.” Understanding this term is an important part of Social Security and your benefits overall.  We often find that COLA is everyone’s favorite term because it can raise the monthly payments received by Social Security beneficiaries. 

The Social Security administration examines the Consumer Price Index each year to determine whether or not there needs to be an adjustment. One of the reasons the agency does this is to make sure that recipients benefit checks keep up with the cost of necessities.

The numbers that go into this calculation for Social Security’s annual adjustment to benefit payments come from examining price increases during the prior year’s summer months. The Department of Labor computes the Consumer Price Index by averaging the prices for the months of July to September. It compares that average to the same average from the previous year. Prices for things that the average consumer needs are found in the index. For example, it contains figures for rent, power, food, and transportation. The Social Security administration then uses these figures to determine if a COLA is necessary. 

The COLA provided a 2.8% boost to Social Security benefits at the beginning of 2019. This was the largest adjustment distributed since 2012. The final numbers are in for 2020’s COLA, however, and it will be smaller than 2019’s. This year’s COLA will be 1.6%. This means the size of the raise will be based on the size of the benefits received. For example, the average recipient of retirement benefits who is receiving $1,427 per month from Social Security will receive an additional $23 monthly increase.

Planning for Social Security benefits is just a part of the overall consideration each Florida seniors needs to make when it comes planning for his or her elder care needs. Ask yourself now if you could afford the cost of an assisted living facility or a skilled nursing facility should you face a health care crisis right now. We find that most Florida seniors are not prepared for a future that may include the need for long-term care outside the home. We encourage you to learn more from us and schedule a meeting with attorney Scott Selis to discuss your needs or the needs of your aging loved ones.

Why Visiting Elder Loved Ones in Nursing Homes is so Important

Why Visiting Elder Loved Ones in Nursing Homes is so Important

Did you know taking the time to visit elder loved ones in a nursing home isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s also a way to support their health? Studies show that social isolation and loneliness have profoundly negative effects on the elderly that can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Nursing home visits can go a long way toward combating isolation, but there are also other benefits.

Nursing home residents typically love to receive visitors. Wouldn’t you? It gives them something to look forward to and keeps them engaged with the outside world. It’s also emotionally stimulating. Visits spark positive memories and lets elder residents know that people they care about still care about them. 

Remember, family members are not the only individuals who may visit. Friendly visits, from neighbors and local friends, not only offer opportunities for socialization but also offer opportunities to spot trouble. Nursing homes are supposed to be reassuring residential communities where aging loved ones spend their final years in peace and comfort. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. The National Council on Aging estimates that about 1 in 10 seniors has experienced some form of elder abuse in a community setting, and as little as 1 in 14 cases are ever reported to the authorities. Always be vigilant when visiting an elder loved one or friend and make sure to look for signs of neglect as well as physical abuse. 

Another important reason to visit is that it is always a chance to gauge the elder person’s health. Busy staff members might not recognize subtle changes in physical behavior or mental acuity, and identifying early warning signs can help avoid emergencies, like a fall or stroke. It’s also helpful to discuss prescription medications and any related side effects that might cause discomfort or harm. Curious family members and friends may be the only opportunity where a senior feels comfortable to express his or her concerns.  

Finally, nursing home visits create new, enjoyable memories. Just because an aging adult lives in a long-term care facility doesn’t mean everything worthwhile in life is in the past. They can still bond with people who care about them, no matter where they are now living. There is also never a wrong time to answer questions and get the support you need in your local community. We work with Florida seniors and their loved ones each and every day, and encourage you to schedule a meeting to discuss this topic or any elder care questions you may have.

How to Discuss Medicaid Planning with Your Parents During the Holidays

How to Discuss Medicaid Planning with Your Parents During the Holidays

The holidays are a time for all of us to come together and celebrate. It may also be the only time during the year that families who live far apart from each other can visit, face-to-face. We find this to hold especially true for our Florida seniors who have either moved away from their adult children or whose children have moved out of state. 

We encourage you to carve out time during your holiday celebrations to discuss the future with your aging parents. While none of us want to consider a future that includes long-term care it does not mean the conversation should be avoided. Difficult conversations are, for the most part, better to have in person.

It may not seem necessary to have this conversation, especially if your parents are only recently leaving their middle-age years and in relatively good health. We would counter, however, that there is never a wrong time to begin to plan for your aging parent’s potential need for long-term care and their nursing home eligibility. A sudden, incapacitating stroke could leave them with diminished capacity or Alzheimer’s Disease at any time, and we all need planning in place that contemplates these issues. In fact, right now the cost of long-term care in Florida presently exceeds $8,000 per month. Without a plan in place to qualify for nursing home Medicaid in the future, your parents’ assets could be substantially depleted due to long-term nursing home care. 

In addition, the community spouse may only retain his or her income plus the portion of the institutionalized spouse’s income necessary to allow the community spouse $2,058.00 in income per month with a maximum to include an excess shelter and a standard utility allowance of no more than $3,161.

It is important to understand that Medicaid is a means-based program. For example, a parent in a nursing home can only own $2,000 of countable assets and be eligible for Medicaid nursing home assistance. The non-institutionalized parent can only own $126,420 in countable assets.  This means that your parents will not receive Medicaid assistance if they have too many assets. This is why it is important to begin far in advance of applying for Medicaid eligibility to divert their assets from the countable assets that will disqualify them for Medicaid eligibility to non-countable assets. Presently, examples of non-countable assets can include, but are not limited to, a residence, improvements made to their residence, Individual Retirement Accounts, a prepaid burial account or an automobile regardless of its value. 

If your parents wait too long to make gifts of their assets to someone other than a spouse they may be penalized for making the gift too close to the time that they need to apply for Medicaid assistance. Assets given to another person, such as a son or a daughter, at least five years in advance of applying for Medicaid assistance, however, may not give rise to their disqualification for assistance. Further, a good elder care planning tool can be to transfer their countable assets to an irrevocable trust at least five years in advance of applying for Medicaid nursing home assistance.

We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. Planning for elder care issues, at any time, can feel as if you are navigating a long-term care maze. We encourage you not to wait to get the advice you need. Do not wait to schedule a meeting with our office with your parents while you are visiting, or any time throughout the year.

Ways to Find the Right Nursing Home for You and Your Loved Ones

Ways to Find the Right Nursing Home for You and Your Loved Ones

For most of us, the idea of moving to a nursing home can be a difficult subject to discuss. Whether you are a Florida senior who needs to consider moving out of the home or an adult child looking to help your aging parent, you may be confused as to where to start. Where do you find the information you need? How do you know how to choose the right facility for you? How will you be able to afford it?

We deal with each of these questions on a daily basis when we work with our clients and their loved ones. We know the challenges you face and want to be able to help you navigate these issues. 

As you complete your research on finding the right nursing home for you or a loved one, you need to have the right tools to review and compare the places you are considering. Medicare does have a resource for you. Medicare has created the Nursing Home Compare Tool. According to Medicare, when using this tool, you may find “detailed information about every Medicare nursing home in the country.” You can perform a search using city, state, and zip code features.

Recently, The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has made an effort to give consumers even more critical information. We have been watching these chances that were announced to be put into play this year. CMS reported that updates were coming “to Nursing Home Compare and the Five-Star Quality Rating System to strengthen this tool for consumers to compare quality between nursing homes.”

How does this work? According to The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services:

“Nursing Home Compare has a quality rating system that gives each nursing home a rating between 1 and 5 stars. Nursing homes with 5 stars are considered to have above average quality and nursing homes with 1 star are considered to have quality below average. There is one Overall 5-star rating for each nursing home, and a separate rating for each of the following three factors:

Health Inspections: Inspections include the findings on compliance to Medicare and Medicaid health and safety requirements from onsite surveys conducted by state survey agencies at nursing homes.

Staffing Levels: The staffing levels are the numbers of nurses available to care for patients in a nursing home at any given time.

Quality Measures: The quality of resident care measures are based on resident assessment and Medicare claims data.”

Further, on October 7, 2019, CMS announced more enhancements where “CMS will display a consumer alert icon next to nursing homes that have been cited for incidents of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.  According to CMS, this critical move toward improved transparency is yet another way the Agency is delivering on its five-part approach to ensuring safety and quality in nursing homes.”

We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. We also know the challenges you face when searching for nursing home care for yourself or a loved one. We encourage you not to wait to reach out to us and schedule a meeting to find answers to your questions.

Tips on How Family Caregivers Can Avoid Family Conflict

Tips on How Family Caregivers Can Avoid Family Conflict

November is National Family Caregiver Awareness Month, and there is no shortage of reasons to celebrate. Family caregivers make tremendous personal sacrifices, and provide an enormous social safety net for millions of people in need. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, more than 43 million of these everyday heroes provided unpaid care to a dependent relative last year. On average, this same research shows they spend about 21 hours a week helping loved ones, with about one-quarter dedicating more than 40 hour a week. 


While deserving of high-praise, it is worth noting that family caregiving dynamics can lead to family strife. Typically, the bulk of care responsibilities falls on one person, known as the primary caregiver. It is important for spouses, adult siblings, and other relatives to understand all that this entails including, but not limited to, diminished personal and professional opportunities, basing routine life decisions around the well-being of the dependent person, and high-levels of emotional stress. 


When combining the rigors of assisting with daily activities, such as meal preparation, bathing and dressing, as well as transportation and medical support, caregiving can be downright exhausting. As a result, family caregivers often struggle with taking care of themselves and with having feelings of being taken for granted. 


A primary caregiver, however, should acknowledge any resentments they have with siblings, spouses, and other relatives stemming from their choice to volunteer to provide dependent-care. Practical steps to resolve conflict can be taken once a basic understanding of roles is achieved. Let us share a few examples with you here:. 

  • Family caregivers should share important medical and health information without oversimplifying or holding back.


  • Relatives should keep in mind that dependent loved ones may say things that are not necessarily true. 


  • Family caregivers should be able to ask relatives for help, but without infusing guilt or anger. Caregiver relatives need to oblige whenever possible.


  • Commit to healthy, timely communication, and do not let stressful issues tear your family apart. 


Even the most “functional” families bring baggage to the table when addressing important care decisions, especially regarding items like powers of attorney, financial management, and health care estate planning. We encourage you not to wait to meet with an elder care attorney who understands these issues. He or she can have the added benefit of serving as an objective third-party who is immune to emotional family disputes, while providing expert legal guidance on important matters. Do not wait to contact our law practice with your questions this November and throughout the year.