A homestead protects a person’s home from certain creditors. In some states, this protection is automatic – when you purchase a home and live in it, you receive a certain amount of protection from creditors. In Massachusetts, you needed to declare a homestead, and file it with the probate court — until recently. On December 16th, 2010, Governor Patrick signed into law a bill containing a series of important amendments to the Homestead Act (Mass. General Laws, Ch. 188). The new provisions will be effective on March 16, 2011.
One important change is that homestead protection of $125,000 will be automatic; greater protection (up to $500,000) is available with the filing of a homestead declaration form. Forms are available to download from salemdeeds.com or from other county registry websites.
The other important change, particularly if you are doing estate planning (and really, why else would you be reading this blog?) is that a home held in a trust can now be protected by the homestead declaration. This provides clarity which has been lacking, and it tis a welcome change for homeowners who have elected to place their homes in trust. Next week I’ll talk about the benefits of putting your residence into a trust.
One of the benefits of the health reform law took effect January 1, 2011: free preventive services for Medicare recipients. Under the law, people with regular Medicare will no longer have to pay a copay, coinsurance or deductible to receive preventive services that are highly recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — services that include screenings for breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes and heart disease, as well as smoking cessation counseling. Private Medicare plans (also known as Medicare Advantage plans) may still charge for these services, but many do not.
Also under the health reform law, Medicare Part B beneficiaries will now receive an annual wellness visit free of charge. During this yearly visit, your doctor or other health practitioner recognized by Medicare (such as a nurse practitioner) will update your medical history and current prescriptions; measure your height, weight, blood pressure and body mass index; create a screening schedule for the next 5 to 10 years and screen for cognitive issues. And Medicare now pays in full, without patient co-pays or deductibles, for the initial "Welcome to Medicare" that Medicare has offered since 2005 to beneficiaries within 12 months of their becoming covered under Medicare Part B. (For a CommonHealth article on what to expect from a wellness visit and how to get the most out of yours, click here.)
"Preventing diseases that can be prevented, and detecting others at earlier, more treatable stages, are among the keystones for transforming Medicare," said Jonathan Blum, deputy administrator and director of the Center for Medicare at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
"By eliminating the beneficiary’s out-of-pocket costs for most preventive services, we are removing a barrier to access and paving the way for improved health for seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare for their health coverage."
For a detailed list from the Medicare Rights Center of preventive services that will no longer require out-of-pocket payments,click here. For more on Medicare’s preventive services from the Medicare Rights Center, click here, and from the Center for Medicare Advocacy, click here.