You Bet Your VA Life Insurance!

Among the benefits that veterans may access through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is life insurance. Considering the often-hazardous duty that veterans have encountered and survived, the VA’s life insurance programs are meant to offer a measure of financial security to the family for little or no cost. And proceeds from a life insurance policy on a veteran, no matter whether a VA policy or not, are not considered income by the VA, which can be a valuable benefit for a surviving spouse.

The various VA life insurance programs are listed below with the ubiquitous corresponding VA acronym.

  • Service members’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI)
    • Service members’ Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI)
    • Family Service members' Group Life Insurance (FSGLI)
    • Service members’ Group Life Insurance Disability Extension (SGLI-DE)
  • Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (S-DVI)
  • Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI)
  • Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI)

Bigstock-Soldier-And-Doctor-Shaking-Han-83552111As the names suggest, not all of these life insurance programs are meant for veterans. The only ones that are available to veterans are the last three. The first four programs are applicable to active service members or their dependents. Specifically, Service members' Group Life Insurance is term life insurance coverage for eligible service members that extends until 120 days after separation from service. Coverage under SGLI is $3.50/month for increments of $50,000 up to a maximum death benefit of $400,000 at a maximum monthly premium of $28.

Apart from basic SGLI, there are three versions of SGLI for specific circumstances. For an additional $1 premium per month, Service members'’ Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI) provides for a benefit paid in life if the service member suffers a loss due to traumatic injury like amputation, blindness, and paraplegia. There is also SGLI for dependents called Family Service members' Group Life Insurance (FSGLI). And the Service members' Group Life Insurance Disability Extension (SGLI-DE) is an extension of coverage for up to two years if the service member is totally disabled at separation.

After eligible active service, only veterans, and not their dependents, have VA life insurance options: the Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (S-DVI), Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI), and the Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI). Veterans who receive a new service-connected disability rating have two years to apply for Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (S-DVI). A “new” service-connected disability rating does not include an increase of a previously held rating, nor a rating of Individual Unemployability, which is a special rating under which the VA can pay 100% of full disability compensation to someone whose service-connected disabilities are not rated at that level. Basic coverage under S-DVI, which offers both term and permanent type plans, starts at $10,000, and supplemental coverage can be purchased up to $30,000. If the new service-connected disability began before the age of 65 and lasted six consecutive months, the premiums for the first $10,000 in S-DVI coverage are waived.

For any service member who was covered by a SGLI policy during active duty and does not want to lose that coverage beyond the given 120 days after separation, there is the option of converting SGLI to a Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) policy or even to a commercial policy. VGLI is a term life insurance product that provides lifetime coverage as long as the premiums are paid. Coverage can be the same amount as the original SGLI policy or can be reduced by increments of $10,000. Once enrolled, you can increase coverage by $25,000 every five years up to a maximum coverage of $400,000

The final insurance program available to veterans is Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI), which is specifically for severely disabled veterans who have received a VA Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant to help build, remodel, or purchase a home, have the title to the home, and have a mortgage on the home. There is also an application deadline of age 70. A VMLI policy provides coverage equal to the amount of the mortgage still owed, up to $200,000, and is payable only to the mortgage holder. It is a decreasing term life insurance that reduces as the mortgage balance declines.

There is a convenient tool called Overview of VA Insurance Benefits created by the VA that allows you to pick the insurance program and then get further guidance on specific program eligibility. If a service member is qualified for SGLI, he or she, along with their non-service-member spouse, is automatically enrolled. To qualify, the applicant has to be an active-duty member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard; a commissioned member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the U.S. Public Health Service; a cadet or midshipman of the U.S. military academies or the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) engaged in authorized training and practice cruises; or certain reserve members.

Veterans, on the other hand, must complete applications for VA life insurance products. Complete and file form VA Form 29-4364 for Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (S-DVI) or apply online at Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) requires completion of VA form SGLV 8714 or an online application at the Prudential website: Finally, one can only apply for Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI) by completing VA form 29-8636.

If you would like to learn more about becoming a Lawyers With Purpose member consider joining us in the room the week of October 24th – October 28th in Houston for The Law Profit Summit and the Tri-Annual Practice Enhancement Retreat.  We promise it WILL change your practice!

By Sabrina A. Scott, Paralegal, The Elder & Disability Law Firm of Victoria L. Collier, PC, and Director of VA Services for Lawyers with Purpose.

Victoria L. Collier, Veteran of the United States Air Force, 1989-1995 and United States Army Reserves, 2001-2004. Victoria is a Certified Elder Law Attorney through the National Elder Law Foundation, Author of “47 Secret Veterans Benefits for Seniors”; Author of “Paying for Long Term Care: Financial Help for Wartime Veterans: The VA Aid & Attendance Benefit”; Founder of The Elder & Disability Law Firm of Victoria L. Collier, PC; Co-Founder of Lawyers with Purpose; and Co-Founder of Veterans Advocate Group of America.

Bigstock-Broken-Wedding-Rings-19863971 (1)

Does Your Trust Really Have Remarriage Protection?

As a lawyer practicing in the elder law and estate planning industry for 25 years, I'm always intrigued by what lawyers refer to as remarriage protections. Remarriage protection relates to the provisions that one puts in a trust to ensure after a spouse dies and a surviving spouse remarries (or cohabitates) that the underlying estate plan of the deceased spouse is honored and maintained. The truth is that trust systems in the estate planning industry have little, if any, remarriage language or protections. The general protection that trust systems provide for remarriage is that if a spouse remarries, they allow you to discontinue payments of interest or principal to that spouse, and that's usually limited to the context in a family or marital trust. Wow, that's remarriage protection?

Bigstock-Broken-Wedding-Rings-19863971 (1)Hardly. In the Lawyers with Purpose Client Centered Software (LWP-CCS) system, there are layers of remarriage protections available to the client. First and foremost, the trust system tracks all of the benefits granted to a surviving spouse as you design the plan and import data into the trust system. Second, the trust system tracks all of the authority that you give a surviving spouse as trustee, trust protector, etc. Third, the LWP-CCS system allows you to identify what your client considers to be “remarriage.” In our default definition, the language identifies that a spouse will be deemed to be remarried after cohabiting for one night. The software also allows you to customize your own definition of remarriage, and once that definition is triggered you are then allowed to customize which of the powers or benefits that you have granted a surviving spouse will be modified or eliminated, along with any conditions for reinstatement.

For example, if a surviving spouse has been named trustee, the software knows that and asks you if you want to remove the right of the surviving spouse to be trustee upon marriage. Secondly, the trust software tracks all beneficial interests of the surviving spouse, and if you elect to have remarriage restrictions, the software will show you all the different places where the surviving spouse has retained a right to benefit from the trust. It will also ask if you want to minimize or eliminate any of those benefits individually, not collectively. That is, you can pick and choose which ones stay and which ones go.

Does this seem too good to be true? Well, it is if you have regular software, but the LWP-CCS software has been designed around the needs of the client, not the lawyers. The good news is, once you identify the needs of the client, the software will put in the necessary legal language to accomplish the objectives that you have identified for the clients. This is what being a Lawyer with Purpose means, and this is what client-centered software is all about. Don't go it alone. Let Lawyers with Purpose show you how to do real remarriage protection planning for clients.

If you aren't a Lawyers With Purpose member and are even thinking about adding estate or elder law to your existing practice, or want to make your estate/elder law practice more efficient, join us in the room in Houston this October 24th and 25th. Click here for the full agenda and to discover more of what you'll get from this program!

David J. Zumpano, Esq, CPA, Co-founder Lawyers With Purpose, Founder and Senior Partner of Estate Planning Law Center


Honoring the Chocolate Factory by Protecting our Grantors During Life and After Death

Unknown to most of us, Gene Wilder suffered from Alzheimer’s disease during his final years. Mr. Wilder decided early in his diagnosis not to disclose his medical condition to the world. His family quietly dealt with the pain of caregiving and memory loss in a quiet and secluded way. After Mr. Wilder’s peaceful passing in his home, which came after a family chicken dinner while he listened to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” his nephew made an official statement about his death, and then the family went back to mourning the loss of a beloved member.

As an attorney, I immediately imagined what planning must have gone into this decision. I imagine the HIPAA forms that must have been signed to make sure the medical records of someone so famous stayed under wraps. Mr. Wilder must have had a strong personal care plan with wonderfully explicit direction to direct that, when he remembered nothing, his family should have his favorite meal and listen to his favorite song as he passed amid them all.

Gene-wilderBut mostly, I imagine the moment when it could have all gone wrong from a legal perspective. I imagine that moment when a doctor or lawyer told the family that Mr. Wilder could no longer make his own decisions. I wonder how that moment went, but I will never know. There were no court hearings about Mr. Wilder’s competence or who would control his fortune. There were no tabloid articles written. So, while we will never know what Mr. Wilder chose for us not to see, I do believe one thing to be certain. Gene Wilder must have had a strong trust plan in place, with dependable trustees, a solid disability panel and a watchful trust protector.

Often when creating trust plans, attorneys focus only on who will get property, at what time and in what manner. Certainly those are important prongs of a complete plan to focus on, but they are not the only issues. A solid client-centered plan will also focus on who will fulfill each crucial role of making sure the client’s plan is carried out when it is funded, after he becomes disabled and upon his death. A trustee or successor trustee should be selected with care and thought. And, by using age restrictions, powers of appointment and remarriage restrictions, a trustee can be guided in the exact direction the grantor intended for his estate plan.

A trust protector can be appointed to offer protection to the trust estate and the beneficiaries against any law changes, trustee vacancies and/or disputes that arise in the estate.  A trust protector’s ability to restate or amend a trust, appoint a trustee or settle a family dispute can eliminate the need for an expensive and public court hearing on a private family issue.  Trust protectors, usually attorneys, are the perfect parties to offer their clients the security of knowing that the plan they drafted has an outside eye ready to look over and protect the intent of the original plan.

Finally, I have no doubt that Mr. Wilder’s final years would not have been as private had he not had an excellent disability panel in place. A disability panel – a group of individuals hand-picked by the grantor who will decide when he is incapacitated for purposes of being trustee of his own estate – can make a determination of incompetence. By determining the incapacity of a grantor as a group, the disability panel can eliminate the need for a court hearing to declare the incapacity of a grantor. I cannot imagine the security a hand-selected disability panel must offer to people like Mr. Wilder who know that the day they need someone to take over is fast upon them and that it can be done with no court interference or adverse action by the family.

We are fortunate at Lawyers with Purpose to have client-centered drafting software that allows us to produce documents that take into account the need for disability panels, trust protectors and all of the other practice tools listed above that might be necessary to meet a client’s goals.      

I am positive that Mr. Wilder would be thankful for our ability to help clients through client-centered planning. I am certain of this because Mr. Wilder’s family spoke of why he made the decision to keep his prognosis and struggle private. He did so because he did not want the children of the world to see Willy Wonka as a sick, elderly man. I believe Willy Wonka himself best defined Mr. Wilder’s actions leading up to his death: “So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

If you want to learn more about becoming a Lawyer With Purpose, join us in Houston October 26-28 for the Tri-Annual Practice Enhancement Retreat. Click here to see the full agenda and reserve your seat now!

Kimberly M. Brannon, Esq., Legal-Technical and Software Trainer


Lessons from Braiterman

Well, here we go again. On July 12, a New Hampshire Trial Court ruled that an irrevocable trust was an available resource. Or did it? A careful examination of the Braiterman case really comes down to three issues. The first was an imaginary stretching of the "any circumstances" provision in Medicaid law. The second was an imaginary stretching of "trustee's powers," and the third, superfluous language added by the attorney that had no legal relevance to the trust document.

I believe, however, that the superfluous language had the greatest impact on this court to find a way to make the trust assets available.  The good news is that this case is neither precedent setting not universally applied. Let us take a look at the faulty (weak) holding. The crux of the court’s argument is that, under 42USC1396P(d)(3)(B), "if there are any circumstances under which proceeds from a trust could be made to or for the benefit of the applicant, then the irrevocable trust is deemed available for purposes of determining eligibility for Medicaid."  Interestingly, it was clear under the trust terms that there were not any circumstances under which the payment from the trust could be made available to the beneficiary applicant. In fact, the court highlighted that the language specifically said that the trustees cannot make any distributions of income or principal to the grantor.

Bigstock-Pupils-raising-hand-during-geo-83001707The court, however, focused on superfluous language in the trust stating that, if at any time during the lifetime of the grantor, the grantor could lose eligibility for benefit because of the existence of this trust, then it was the grantor's “request” that the trustee consider bringing action to terminate the trust and to distribute the trusts corpus to the beneficiaries (again, NOT the grantor). Continuing, the trust stated that the grantor “hoped” that the people who received the trust corpus would use it for her benefit. The superfluous language goes on explicitly to identify the grantor's disability, or need for income. The imaginary stretch by the court here is that, although the attorney added this language that the court hangs on, in fact, there's no legal authority to enforce it. Under most states’ laws, termination of an irrevocable trust requires the consent of not only the trustee, but also of the grantor and the residuary beneficiaries; state law determines whether an irrevocable trust can be terminated, not a trustee. The only authority granted to the trustee in this trust was to bring an action to terminate the trust and distribute it to the beneficiaries.

So there's a double faux pas here; first, there is a presumption that the trustee has the unilateral authority to terminate the trust. Second, there is an enormous leap by the court in deciding that, because the grantor added the language “hoping” for the beneficiaries to use the proceeds for her, that there in fact actually is a legal obligation or even a legal authority to consider it required, so as to make the assets declared available to the grantor. The mistake by the court here is that any access to the trust income or principal is NOT contained within the four corners of the trust, but rather is a stretch to what a beneficiary will choose to do with trust assets after receiving them (which, by the way, is no longer a trust asset!).

The court notes that in her capacity as trustee, the grantor had authority without limitation to "terminate the trust by distributing the principle and accumulating income of the trust fund if in her judgement she might lose eligibility to substantial cash benefits or medical or other services. Again, the court stretches and fills in this imaginary chasm with rationale that indicates that there's actually legal authority for the trustee to do this. In fact, the court alludes that the grantor not being named a trust beneficiary is not dispositive, and held that because there is "any circumstance" that would permit the grantor to get the proceeds, then it was countable. In this fact pattern, the court argued that, since it could be distributed to the children and there was no prohibition on the children to distribute it back to the grantor, the court could infer that there is a circumstance in which the grantor could benefit. This is troubling, as there is no basis, no background and legal support of language anywhere to support this other than the court's opinion.

So what does this case tell us? First and foremost, it affirms what we already know: that a lot of courts do not like Medicaid planning. And that's OK. Second, it tells us attorneys that adding superfluous language that does not relate to the legal provisions of the trust has absolutely no legal impact on the trust terms, but in every contrary case decided up to this point, including Braiterman, it is proven to be the words hung on by the court to disallow planning for people who engage in Medicaid planning. I have been a longtime advocate of Medicaid planning, but more importantly, proper Medicaid planning. When following the rules, individuals who give away their assets are subject to the lookback period and potential imposition of ineligibility based on any uncompensated transfers. The law anticipates this, provides for it, and has clearly stated it. The challenge here is when courts usurp the law and assume information that is not legal or based on legal principles. I fully expect this case to be overturned on appeal, but nonetheless in a state like New Hampshire, a more liberal state, anything is possible.

The good news is the Lawyers with Purpose Client Centered Software (LWP-CCS) system has specific language that would nullify the court's holding in this case. In addition, Lawyers with Purpose attorneys are trained never to add superfluous language that does not relate to the legal terms of the trust. It is when lawyers forget that trusts are legal documents and entities, much like an LLC, that we get cases such as Braiterman. For example, in an LLC operating agreement, would you allow the owners to have rights to pay their medical expenses if they went into a nursing home? Obviously it's silly, but a trust is no different; it's a separate legal entity and should be respected as such. Attorneys must ensure that all of the provisions and terms relate to authority of the trustee to administer the trust and make distributions to the intended beneficiaries, and should in no way ever suggest or provide that trust principal be available or used for the grantor if it is an irrevocable trust intending to exclude its assets from consideration for Medicaid eligibility.

Interestingly, on the same day this case was released, I was notified once again by an LWP member in Florida that the Florida Department of Medicaid upheld a Lawyers with Purpose trust that provided that the grantor was trustee and that all assets in the trust were deemed unavailable. So before we jump off any bridges based on the Braiterman case and give up our Medicaid practices, understand your jurisdictions, understand your job as the attorney and, as we focus on at Lawyers with Purpose, always be an advocate for your client using the law, and keep your superfluous language out of it.

Registration for THE estate and elder law event not to be missed is open!  Grab your seat today before early bird pricing ends on September 5th. Click here to register now.

David J. Zumpano, Esq, CPA, Co-founder Lawyers With Purpose, Founder and Senior Partner of Estate Planning Law Center


What Is A Successful Workshop? Here’s All You Need to Know…

I've been working with estate planning attorneys around the United States for almost 20 years, and I am always intrigued about how excited they get when they deliver a presentation, seminar or workshop. The interesting dynamic is how pumped they get in front of a room full of people. It might surprise you to learn that such a situation is not exciting to me or to any LWP attorney, for one simple reason. We have learned that it is not the number of people in the room or your ability to speak to them that matters, but rather your ability to communicate and create relationships with them so they trust you and understand how you can help them accomplish their goals. That’s when they hire you.

Bigstock-Workshop-Word-Cloud-With-Magni-130546559Under the Lawyers with Purpose workshop system, our members are provided three different workshops, depending upon which best matches their personal objectives. We offer members the “Estate Planning Essentials” workshop, the “Seven Threats to Every Estate Plan” workshop, and the “How to Protect Your Stuff in Three Easy Steps” workshop. All three teach the same concepts and utilize similar stories, but most importantly, all connect and relate to the Estate Plan Audit
™ utilized in the Vision Meeting™ with individuals who attend the workshop and opt for a meeting with you. They also delve into what estate planning is and the specific issues you want them to know (all contained in our trademarked and copyrighted workshops).

Why is this relevant? Because the excitement over the number of people in your workshop is baseless if none of them hire you. If your workshop can't show people how you can help them and explain how your solutions are relevant to them and will benefit them, then stay home with your family rather than waste the time.

So, to avoid that scenario, let’s consider the core elements of a successful workshop. First, ensure in advance that you are clear on who is registered to attend your workshop. You should also ask how each attendee heard about you; that is, what source of marketing got them to call your office (a professional relationship, a retail advertisement, or other). Second, your staff should welcome all attendees during enrollment, excite them about the workshop they're going to attend and touch on how it will offer new ideas to solve their concerns. Third, your team should follow up with attendees ahead of time and confirm attendance. Fourth, during the workshop it is essential to set the expectation up front that you will make commitments to the audience, and to make sure the audience understands that you expect them at the end of the workshop to complete the evaluation and request a meeting if they think it's appropriate. This is perhaps the most important part of the workshop – not all the education you provide, but rather the invitation for them to move forward with you at the conclusion. You must be enthusiastic and excited for them to come in and apply what they learned to their personal situation, in hopes of helping them accomplish their goals and objectives based upon what they’ve learned in the workshop. If you don't believe in yourself, why would they?

And finally, another very important element of every workshop, one in which I have found that most lawyers fail, is to follow up with the attendees to schedule the appointment. I cannot tell you how many times I've worked with attorneys who either neglected to get an evaluation at the end or got the evaluation and failed to follow up on it.

Life is busy. People don't have “free time” to just pop into a workshop, and oh, by the way, I can't wait to go see a lawyer tomorrow to talk about all this crazy stuff. For most people, their lives are busy and complicated, and they're confused. You must be the one who clarifies the confusion and shows them a simple approach for them to get their concerns solved.

That's what the Lawyers with Purpose workshop system does. In fact, we call it the Client Enrollment System™ because it's a complete process, from identifying the client's needs after their initial contact with you, to the point of their engagement with your firm. That's the significance of workshops and seminars: not the excitement of delivering them, but the excitement of actually being able to help people implement great planning solutions that protect them and their family. Contact Lawyers with Purpose today if you want to learn more about what we can bring to your estate and/or elder law practice.  Just click here and give us a little information then download our membership brochure.

David J. Zumpano, Esq, CPA, Co-founder Lawyers With Purpose, Founder and Senior Partner of Estate Planning Law Center


Latest Release of LWP-CCS Software

The latest version of the Lawyers with Purpose Client-Centered Software (LWP-CCS) was recently released and can be downloaded by using the link emailed to all qualifying members. Instructions on how to install the update are included. Please contact Member Services if you have not received an email. Updates were made to the Medicaid and VA modules and the LWP-CCS forms; the changes are summarized below.

Medicaid Qualification

Statutory wartime dates for VA eligibility have been added to the MedQual Worksheet as a reference aid. Further changes were made to the Asset Risk Analysis to show the rate of loss to a nursing home when in a "crisis" situation. You may also notice that the termination language in the Personal Services Agreement has been simplified per member feedback.

We also updated and simplified the language of the Termination section in the Personal Services Agreement.

Bigstock-Legal-Law-Rules-Community-Just-94090013LWP-CCS Forms

There have been some state-specific changes to the form documents at the request of our state bar members.

We also updated the Illinois Health Care Power of Attorney.

VA Qualification and Application

As another quarter is coming to a close for 2016 without us hearing a peep regarding the proposed VA look-back period, changes to the VA module were minimal with this release. As done for the MedQual worksheet, wartime dates for VA eligibility were added to the VA HotDocs Interviews for convenient reference.

The most important update was the new version of the main application form for filing for veterans improved pension; namely the VA form 21-527EZ Application For Pension is now the 21P-527EZ. Although this is an important update due to the significance of this form and the need to use VA-prescribed forms, the actual changes were negligible, consisting only of the addition of the letter P to the form number and a new revision date of April 2016. Another VA form that was updated is the 24-0296 Direct Deposit Enrollment, which you may use to enroll in direct deposit of VA payments into a bank account.

Another change was made at a member’s suggestion regarding the healthcare provider statement that is generated either through the VA Intent to File Interview or the VA Formal Claim Interview to document certain medical expenses. This document was generating by default with the veteran’s name in the field, “The following services are provided to: _________.” This latest release has removed this default so that this field now remains blank and this form can be used for the veteran and/or the spouse as needed.

This last change illustrates how Lawyers with Purpose benefits from you, our community of members, in improving and developing our software. We are always open to any ideas that allow us to provide you with the most current, useful, and efficient tools for your firm. Always let us know how we can be better!

If you're a Lawyers With Purpose member and use Actionstep, the corresponding software release and separate instruction file is available for download now in the Software section of the members’ Lawyers with Purpose website at The changes in the Actionstep release are identical to those listed above.

If you want to learn more about our drafting software click here to schedule a live demo.

By Sabrina A. Scott, Paralegal, The Elder & Disability Law Firm of Victoria L. Collier, PC and Director of VA Services for Lawyers with Purpose.

Victoria L. Collier, Veteran of the United States Air Force, 1989-1995 and United States Army Reserves, 2001-2004. Victoria is a Certified Elder Law Attorney through the National Elder Law Foundation; Author of “47 Secret Veterans Benefits for Seniors”; Author of “Paying for Long Term Care: Financial Help for Wartime Veterans: The VA Aid & Attendance Benefit”; Founder of The Elder & Disability Law Firm of Victoria L. Collier, PC; Co-Founder of Lawyers with Purpose; and Co-Founder of Veterans Advocate Group of America.


Sales Lessons from Italy

When I was in high school, I took Latin for two years as my foreign language elective. “What a waste,” I thought, until a few weeks ago, when I took my family to Italy. The trip was actually a business trip to brainstorm with colleagues in Florence. Time away from my office to work on my business with extremely intelligent, successful lawyers is always beneficial. But I had no idea how much I would learn about business and sales just by walking the streets. Based on the questions my children asked, they too learned valuable lessons.

First, the canals in Venice were lined shop after shop with uniquely blown glass of jewelry, animals, tableware, and anything else imaginable. On each Florence corner, and between each corner, were gelato (ice cream) stores. The plazas in Rome were bordered by restaurants, shoulder to shoulder, each with virtually identical menus. Nothing stood out. How did any of them get business? Why were some packed while others were bare?

Bigstock-Italy-flag-map-110359223On our last night in Italy, we wanted a place to eat that was close and easy. We had already eaten 18 meals of pasta and had at least 12 gelato treats. We stopped at the first restaurant on the corner of the big plaza near our hotel to review its posted menu. An employee, specifically stationed in the street in front of the outdoor seating, walked over to us and immediately began to share that they have only the freshest ingredients and no microwave or freezer on the premises. He understood that his menu was like everyone else’s, but he focused on how their food was better. He then got personal and asked my son, “What would you want to eat if you were here? … We can do that.” Naturally my son was sold. After sitting down, I began listening and watching our salesman and noticed the following:

  • He started with something small – “Would you like to sit and have a special drink” – without presuming a person was hungry for a full meal.
  • He walked toward the table and said, “Table for four right here for you,” confidently, as if the sale had already been made.
  • When asked by another prospective customer, “What is the best place after yours?” he replied, “You are already here, why would you want to keep walking only to find the second-best place?”
  • They filled the tables closest to the walkway first, then behind, to provide social proof of those walking by that the restaurant was desirable.

Since gelato is an impulse buy or a “treat,” the menu was not as important. But since there was a gelato stand on just about every corner, I looked for what made one more attractive than another. For starters, the shops where you could see the gelato from the street through windows were eye-catchers, versus having to go into the shop. Second, a clearly visible sign that said gelato and pictures of gelato were helpful. Shops that only sold gelato and not other items (sandwiches, water, souvenirs) attracted more business. Thus, the takeaway points were:

  • Be visible and use visuals;
  • Specialize and don’t confuse the market by selling too many products.

Not all sales strategies I observed were effective. In fact, some were quite offensive. First, after we climbed next to the Spanish steps (the actual steps were under construction), a rose peddler approached and I said, “No, thank you,” then, “No, grazie.” He persisted and said, “It is a gift for you to give to Saint Mary (in the church at the top of the steps).” He handed me three roses as a “gift.” I turned away and he then pulled my arm and held out his hand for money. I reluctantly put in two Euros and he asked for more based on the value of three roses. Jennifer was not as considerate as I was: She took two roses from my hand, thrust them back at the guy and said, “Take your roses and leave us alone.” There was no way I was getting the third rose out of my daughter’s hands.

Similarly, while walking through a plaza toward a merry-go-round, a balloon artist handed my daughter a balloon and said, “This is for you.” Naturally, Katherine took it, said, “Thank you,” smiled real big, and began skipping. The balloonist looked to Jennifer for the money (who had none). Jennifer had to take the balloon out of Katherine’s hands, to a crumbling face, and ask her, “Do you want the balloon or the merry-go-round?” A good lesson for Katherine about choices and priority, but an ill-attempted sales strategy by the balloonist.

Two other lessons we picked up based on questions or observations from my son. First, in all three cities we visited, we saw panhandlers, many of whom presented as homeless. Then, on the plazas we enjoyed individuals showing off their talents (juggling, singing, magic, etc.) to earn money thrown into a pan or hat. Christopher asked, “Do only homeless people do tricks for money?” I replied, “No, honey, only the hungry.” That is a generalization, of course. The meaning behind my response was, “Those willing to put themselves out there to earn a living for their needs will do what it takes to earn money.” Satisfied with that response, when we stumbled upon the Roma Gay Pride celebration near the Colosseum, both children were dancing and really enjoying themselves. Christopher said without any hesitation, “Mommy, can I have a can so people can put money into it for our dancing?” I laughed and told him no, but the real lesson was that he was willing to unabashedly “entertain” and make money while I, on the other hand, was too embarrassed to let him. How many people engage in marketing strategies that work very well, but that you refuse to do based on your own limiting beliefs or pride?

The second lesson my son pointed out was at the Trevi Fountain. The legend is that if you throw a coin in the fountain, then you will return to Rome. My son aptly pointed out, “That is just a trick to get you to give them money.” True. Nonetheless, how many people throw the coin? It’s not about throwing the coin or not, it’s about the experience of throwing the coin. How can you be a fountain to your clients, where they are willing to throw coins just for the ongoing relationship or experience (e.g. maintenance plan)?  

When you are out of your office, pay attention to the sales strategies of other businesses. If you were in Rome, would you do as the Romans do? Can you incorporate any of the lessons in your own office?

Victoria L. Collier, Co-Founder, Lawyers with Purpose, LLC,; Certified Elder Law Attorney through the National Elder Law Foundation; Fellow of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys; Founder and Managing Attorney of The Elder & Disability Law Firm of Victoria L. Collier, PC,; Co-Founder of Veterans Advocates Group of America; Entrepreneur; Author; and nationally renowned Presenter.

Obama Signature

Impact of Executive Order 13658 Establishing a Minimum Wage for Contractors on VA-Contracted Nursing Homes

Executive Order (EO) 13658 “Establishing a Minimum Wage for Contractors” was signed by President Obama on February 12, 2014 to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for all federally contracted workers. The intent of this EO was “to promote economy and efficiency in procurement by contracting with sources who adequately compensate their workers.” However, there may be unintended consequences to this federally mandated minimum wage increase in the form of a decrease in VA-contracted nursing homes.

Obama SignatureThe implementing regulations were drafted by the Department of Labor, followed by a public comment period that attracted more than 6,500 comments. The final rule became effective on December 8. It raises the hourly minimum wage paid by federal contractors and subcontractors to workers performing work on covered federal contracts to $10.10 per hour. It applies to contracts beginning January 1, 2015 and also includes potential future increases by an amount to be determined annually by the Secretary of Labor. In 2016, it was increased to $10.15.

Contracts entered into on or before the effective date of January 1, 2015 will not have to comply with the 2015 federal minimum-wage increase until they expire. Prior to 2015, the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act (SCA) determined what federal contractors would pay service employees based on the size of the contract. For contracts equal to or less than $2,500, contractors were required to pay no less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 in effect as of July 24, 2009. Contracts in excess of $2,500 required contractors to pay their employees rates competitive with the local market unless previously negotiated in a prior contractor's collective bargaining agreement.

Although EO 13658 is projected to benefit around 200,000 minimum-wage workers (Department of Labor Fact Sheet: Final Rule to Implement Executive Order 13658, Establishing A Minimum Wage For Contractors), it may incidentally impact veterans’ long-term care, and not for the better. Contracting agencies – like the Veterans Administration – are not only responsible for ensuring that the clause implementing the Executive Order minimum wage requirement is included in any new contracts or solicitations for contracts, but they must also withhold funds when a contractor or subcontractor fails to comply with that clause. For this reason, there are nursing homes that are choosing not to renew or pursue VA contracts due to the financial impact of the requirement to increase the salary of any minimum wage employees.

Unlike VA Community Living Centers that are owned and run by the VA and state veteran’s nursing homes that are owned and run by the state, contract nursing homes are privately owned but have contracts with the VA to provide long-term care paid or subsidized by the VA. What does EO 13658 mean to such nursing homes? This year it means that, if they want to contract with the VA, they will have to pay their employees at least $10.15/hour – an increase of 40% over the older federal minimum wage of $7.25. Some nursing homes are small and will simply not be able to afford this mandate, and those nursing homes that can afford it may decide the VA contract is not worth the cut into their profit margins.

A further nail in the coffin lid of VA-contracted nursing homes may be the proposed EO 13706 Establishing Paid Sick Leave for Federal Contractors signed by President Obama on September 7, 2015. The comment period, which was extended through April 12, 2016, is now over, and we are awaiting publication of a final rule that promises to require federal contractors to also provide paid sick leave to their employees.

By Sabrina A. Scott, Paralegal, The Elder & Disability Law Firm of Victoria L. Collier, PC and Director of VA Services for Lawyers with Purpose.

Victoria L. Collier, Veteran of the United States Air Force, 1989-1995 and United States Army Reserves, 2001-2004. Victoria is a Certified Elder Law Attorney through the National Elder Law Foundation; Author of “47 Secret Veterans Benefits for Seniors”; Author of “Paying for Long Term Care: Financial Help for Wartime Veterans: The VA Aid & Attendance Benefit”; Founder of The Elder & Disability Law Firm of Victoria L. Collier, PC; Co-Founder of Lawyers with Purpose; and Co-Founder of Veterans Advocate Group of America.


Do Your Shareholders Know?

When I was growing up, my parents never talked about money. The bills would come in and be stacked up on the arm of the couch until my mother paid them on Sunday nights, after the kids were in bed. There were only three things I knew about my parents’ finances: 1) They saved all year for us to take a three-week vacation in the car to visit family in Virginia and Illinois; 2) We were middle-class; and 3) After my dad had his first heart attack when I was in the eighth grade, the common expression became, “Do you think money grows on trees?” Of course I didn’t, but I also didn’t know why I couldn’t have a coke after basketball practice anymore.

Now that I am a business owner and the financial support for my family, I understand the dramatic fluctuation of cash flow. And, unlike my parents, my 6-year-old children are getting a handle on it too. They are, after all, the shareholders of my business.

Bigstock-Shareholder-Meeting-day-and-da-102582344My daughter and I have a daily ritual. Each morning she bids me farewell to “make some money.” Each evening she asks me, “Mommy, how was your day?” and “Did you make any money?” One day I responded with, “Yes, we made $5,350 today.” She inquired, “Is that a lot of money?” I replied, “Yes, to some people that is a lot; however, Mommy didn’t make her goal today.” Sometimes when she asks, I tell her that we didn’t make any money that day because it was a business development day, when I meet other professionals instead of clients.

I am comfortable having these conversations with my 6-year-olds because I am working for my family and they deserve to know the status of the business, just like any other shareholder of a business or stocks or financial investments. Furthermore, it helps my family understand why I am “going to work” instead of staying home with them. Lastly, they are learning real business skills, which may serve them and me well in the future (especially if they want to take over my business).

Who are your shareholders? A spouse? Children? Grandchildren? Yourself as you plan for retirement? Whomever it is, be honest and open with them about the state of affairs of the business and finances. This will keep you motivated to set, review and reach your goals.  

Victoria L. Collier, Co-Founder, Lawyers with Purpose, LLC,; Certified Elder Law Attorney through the National Elder Law Foundation; Fellow of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys; Founder and Managing Attorney of The Elder & Disability Law Firm of Victoria L. Collier, PC,; Co-Founder of Veterans Advocates Group of America; Entrepreneur; Author; and nationally renowned Presenter.


Understanding the Child Caregiver Exemption

As many of us are aware, the federal guidelines allow Medicaid applicants to transfer their home to a child caregiver without suffering a Medicaid penalty for the transfer. It is a transfer often attempted by families in the Medicaid application process. It is also a transfer that often fails to meet the requirements necessary for the Medicaid agency to acknowledge the transfer under the child caregiver exemption.

ID-100347162The federal guidelines for the transfer remain somewhat vague, declaring that each state must develop “reasonable standards … for determining eligibility for and the extent of medical assistance,” and that the individual must “fulfill the criteria established by the State in which he lives.” 42 USCA 1396a(a)(17)(A), 453 US 34. This makes it of critical importance that we look to our individual state laws for the specific guidelines necessary. It is also crucial that our clients provide the documentation necessary to prove they acted properly as a caregiver for the parent for at least two consecutive years prior to the transfer.

Generally, individual states require that the child caregiver has resided in the parent’s home for at least two consecutive years immediately preceding the institutionalization of the parent AND provided full-time care for the parent who would otherwise have required institutional care for that entire time period. This is a very specific burden to meet. Just last month, the Superior Court of New Jersey held that a transfer made to a child caregiver who had taken care of her parent for five years prior to institutionalization and met all other requirements of the rule was not valid because the parent had left the nursing home and resided with her son for five months prior to moving back to the nursing home and making the transfer to the daughter. MK v. Dep’t of Human Services, Superior Ct of NJ, Docket No. A-0790-14T3.  

So, what must we ensure that our clients have in order to make the transfer? First, we as attorneys must have a clear understanding of the Medicaid guidelines in our own states. Then we need to be sure our clients obtain, and we review, the required documentation. The Medicaid Child Caregiver Exemption generally requires the following documentation.

1.  Doctor’s letter

I immediately require that my clients bring me the letter from the doctor as soon as they indicate they may qualify for the exemption. I encourage them to have the doctor state all conditions that the parent suffers from, the time period the parent has suffered from those conditions, and that BUT FOR THE CARE OF THE CHILD, the period of time the parent would have required institutional care. Medicaid may, after reviewing the doctor’s letter, request medical records; however, they do not generally need to be provided without Medicaid requesting them.

2.  Proof of child’s address

To qualify for the exemption, the child is required to have lived in the parent’s home for the two years IMMEDIATELY preceding the institutionalization. The fact that the child owns a home and spent part of the time there may pose an issue. Any break in living together in the parent’s home may pose issues as it did in the New Jersey case.

3.  Proof of relationship

If the child has a different last name than the parent, he or she needs to be prepared to present a birth certificate in order to prove relationship. Step-children generally do not qualify for the child caregiver exemption.  

4.  Proof the child provided full-time care

Medicaid may also ask for the past two years of tax returns. Clients may run into an issue here if they worked during the past two years. Generally, the exemption disallows any occupation other than acting as caregiver for the parent. However, in some states, part-time work outside the home is allowed when another child was providing services, or a caregiver was hired, during that time period.

Again, the first step in successfully transferring a home under the child caregiver exemption is knowing the rules of your jurisdiction. Second, we must make sure our clients can actually provide us with the proof required to meet Medicaid’s standards. Often, it is the second prong where we run into trouble. Medicaid rules are often not malleable, and documentation must prove that each prong of the state standard is met.

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Kimberly Brannon, Technical-Legal & Software Trainer – Lawyers With Purpose