Some no-cost options for Medicare counseling
CASEY: Some no-cost options for Medicare counseling and estate-planning
The Local Office on Aging offers senior citizens free health insurance counseling for Medicare Part D plans. Meanwhile, the law school at Washington and Lee University is offering no-fee estate-planning services for people of any age.
Roanoke Times (Roanoke, VA)
• Medicare open enrollment begins Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7.
• The Local Office on Aging offers free (by appointment) Medicare supplemental counseling for seniors residing in Roanoke, Roanoke County, Salem, and the counties of Roanoke, Botetourt, Alleghany and Craig.
• Depending on the medications one takes, choosing the wrong plan could unnecessarily cost a senior money.
• Appointments are in person, or by telephone, or Zoom.
• To make an appointment, call the LOA at (540) 354-0451 in Roanoke, or the agency's Covington office at (540) 962-0465.
• Students in the Trusts and Estates Practicum at Washington and Lee University'sSchool of Law will help people draft wills, advance medical directives and powers of attorney at no charge.
• The service is suitable for people who need simple wills, rather than complex estate-tax planning.
• Each student in the practicum is supervised by a practicing Virginia attorney.
• To make an appointment, email your request along with your name, address and telephone number to [email protected] - a law student will contact you within five business days.
A couple of years ago, I told you about a no-charge insurance-counseling service for seniors offered by the Local Office on Aging. That has to do with Medicare Part D, which is all about prescription medications. It helps seniors choose the most financially advantageous supplemental plan.
In Virginia, various insurance companies offer dozens of different supplemental plans. Each has its own "preferred" formulary for prescription medications. Some are covered at the maximum benefit while others have potentially steep co-pays.
Depending on which maintenance medications a senior takes, the wrong plan could end up costing him or her thousands annually. That's why the LOA offers the service, said Ron Boyd, CEO of the agency.
It's now accepting appointments for the service, and those can be accomplished in person, by telephone or Zoom video connection. A typical Medicare Part D appointment with the LOA takes between 15 minutes and an hour.
"It kind of depends on everyone's situation, because everyone's situation is different," Boyd told me. "I think it depends on the number of prescriptions one takes, and what the prescriptions are."
The agency offers general insurance and Medicare counseling year-round, but the need looms the greatest during the fall annual open enrollment period for Medicare supplemental insurance.
"It's pretty complex on its own," Boyd said.
During open enrollment, the agency will have three full-time staffers plus seven other volunteers helping seniors navigate Medicare Part D. Typically in a year they'll counsel 2,200 to 2,400 seniors on insurance, Boyd said. Most of it occurs during the fall open enrollment period.
Each counselor has been certified by the Virginia Insurance Counseling Assistance Program, and the service they provide is confidential. No matter which plan a client chooses, the counselors receive no commission or payment from any insurer.
The LOA's one of 25 area offices on aging in Virginia, and it covers Roanoke, Salem and the counties of Roanoke, Botetourt, Allegany and Craig. (If you live outside that region, look up the number for your region's office. It likely offers the same service.)
I wrote about this in 2019 after receiving a plea from Fred Horn, a retiree who serves as one of the program's volunteer counselors. He's still doing that.
As a volunteer, "I don't have a dog in this hunt," Horn told me. "I just given them the information. It's been very rewarding for me to be able to help people."
No-fee estate planning at Washington and Lee
Another thing many seniors need is estate planning. A fall class at the Washington and Lee University School of Law is offering no-cost help with that - and you don't have to be a senior citizen.
The second- and third-year students in the school's Trust & Estates Practicum will perform a combination of classroom and field work during the course, which runs through December. They'll draft wills, advance medical directives and powers of attorney.
Each student is supervised by a practicing Virginia attorney, said Bob Danforth, a professor at the law school. His colleague Jennifer Crook, a lawyer and adjunct professor, matches the students with their attorney-mentors.
This fall marks the third year its students are doing actual estate work for clients (the course if offered only in the fall). The first time around, in 2019, the offer was limited to cancer patients. Last year, they expanded to also serve first responders.
"This year we decided to open it to the general public," Danforth told me. Though there are no income or age limitations, the service is not unlimited. That's because the class has only 12 students and they have a finite amount of time.
And the legal work they can do is limited to those three documents. The lowest quote I've heard for a lawyer to prepare all three as a package is a bit more than $1,000 per client. So the potential savings seems significant.
The students will help with "typically very simple wills," Danforth told me. "They're not going to be doing ones with any tax planning or extraordinary complications."
The best way to inquire about this service is via an email to [email protected], he said. Include your name, address and telephone number and a law student will call you within five business days.
In many cases, Danforth said, the clients will be visiting the law school for their appointments. But if they're elderly or infirmed, the student may travel to the client. In some cases, the student and client will meet at the mentoring law firm.
He expects that each student will be putting about 10 to 15 hours worth of work into each client, although "they're not working as efficiently as a practicing attorney would work."
"The students love the course. They really find the engagement [with clients] gratifying," Danforth said.
And, he added, "People love their work. It's a relief for most to get their affairs in order."
Contact metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter:@dancaseysblog.