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Bob Fells's picture

All the News That's Print to Fit

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WHY WE VOTE

All the News That’s Print to Fit
 

[Note: This essay is one in a continuing series by ICCFA executive director Bob Fells focusing on various issues in our federal government. Although the subjects are political in nature, the approach is bipartisan in outlook, at least so far as that is humanly possible. The goal of each essay is not to persuade the reader to adopt a particular political viewpoint or party, but to illustrate why a knowledge of the system is important to protect our businesses, our homes, and our families.]
 

Managing the news has long been one of the most under-reported stories in the news industry. Have you ever wondered when watching the evening news on TV who decides what stories are going to be aired? And what about stories that don’t make the cut? The questions go on: who makes these decisions, what criteria do they use, are story selections influenced by ratings, are certain types of stories off the table? You will think up a number of additional questions on your own, which is perhaps why the news media doesn’t turn the spotlight on its operations very often.
 

I’m intrigued by the way one event can push everything else out of the way. We saw an example of this recently with the happy news of the royal birth by Harry and Kate. As I watched the endless (and mostly repetitive) coverage on the nightly news I said to my wife, “I guess nothing else newsworthy happened today.” Of course, I was being sarcastic but in the world of the news czars, the royal birth was just about the only thing they thought we needed to know that day. This is an example of managing the news.
 

Then there are slow news days when nothing much seems to have happened during the past 24-hour news cycle. But will your favorite anchor guy or gal say as much? No way – they come on as if today witnessed earth-shaking developments that will change the civilized world as we know it. This is also an example of managing the news. Just once I’d appreciate the honesty of an anchor saying, “Good evening folks. Well, it’s been a quiet day and not much has happened but here are a couple things you might find interesting.” However, I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for this to happen.
 

Newspapers have always had an advantage over broadcast news because readers can skip over or focus on articles that would not be reported by the electronic media due to time constraints. I find reading online newspapers a bit more difficult to navigate in that sense. At the risk of showing my age, I can remember when the national news broadcasts on weekday evenings were 15 minutes long. Then there would be another 15 minutes of local news. The move to the half hour national news program as the norm today was made only in recent years, relatively speaking (for me, anything after 1970 is relatively recent).
 

The odd thing is that back in the days of 15-minute news programs, about half a dozen stories were covered during that time frame. Today when a half hour is standard, about half a dozen stories are still covered during this time frame. On 24/7 all-news stations such as CNN and Fox News, if you follow things very closely you will discover a strange phenomenon – only about a half dozen stories are covered during the 24/7 time frame. Evidently, somebody has decided that the poor minds of the collective public cannot handle more than a half dozen stories during any time frame. Except of course when something big happens, then we are presumed capable of handling only one story. Welcome to News Management 101.
 

But managing the news really gets interesting when the news industry decides that itself is the subject of the news. For example, today’s Washington Post newspaper reported that it has been sold to the founder of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos. That is genuinely newsworthy but the Post decided to cover the event with a banner headline emblazoned above the fold on its front page. It seems that the Wash Post is telling all of us that this is the most important event of the day. I guess it is if you are employed by the Post but for the other 99+% of the population this story doesn’t rate as Numero Uno.
 

At least newspapers have no time constraints – or page restraints either. Print journalism is technically more honest than electronic journalism because newspapers can claim to have reported on a story even though it was buried somewhere in the back pages. The challenge with managing electronic news is that everything is “front page” news on TV. You can’t bury a story when you’re reporting it on TV although I have detected an emerging method of reporting on TV, yet “burying” it too. You’ve already heard it: “For more information log on to our web site.” Now how many viewers do that?
 

Another endangered newspaper is the New York Times that famously boasts on the top of its front page that it reports, “All the news that’s fit to print.” This motto has always troubled me because it raises the question of who at the Times gets to decide what is “fit” or “unfit” news to be printed?  It is more accurate to say that the paper manages to fit in its pages all the news that it wants to print. This raises a host of troubling questions but this is where we came in.
 

The point is that whatever your preferred news source, never read or watch uncritically and keep reminding yourself that somebody made a deliberate decision over what news would be reported and how it would be characterized, and what wouldn’t be reported.   I think Walter Cronkite unwittingly admitted the manipulation when he famously boasted, “And that’s the way it is.” Oh really?

 
 

jodiclock's picture

Life Insurance, Funeral Homes, and Medicaid

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 Life Insurance, Funeral Homes, and Medicaid

BY Jodi Clock, Author, "NAVIGATING THE ELDER CARE JOURNEY…WITHOUT GOING BROKE! , President Clock Timeless Pets, Business Partner Clock Funeral Homes Continue the conversation with Jodi at www.jodiclock.com 

             This month, the “411” on life insurance, funeral homes, and qualifying for Medicaid assistance for long-term care.

I can’t share with you how may times our funeral home receives a phone call from a life insurance agent or financial planner asking if we will allow their client or family member to name our funeral home as the primary beneficiary of a life insurance contract. What even perplexes me more, is that the answer to the question above, is clearly discussed when an individual participates classes prior to taking their life insurance exam, whether a person is taking a full life or limited life exam, this is directly addressed.

Before the answer is addressed, it’s important to understand that there are two very different types of life insurance policies.

The first type of life insurance policy is the kind that this question is referring too. One that is written by a life insurance agent. An example of this would be an agent who represents insurance products from companies like Farmers, Prudential, USAA, State Farm, or Metropolitan. These companies offer consumers products like term life, whole life, universal life, annuities, long term care, etc.. Professionals who work with these types of companies have what is referred to as a “full life license” as they can sell an array of products that typically don’t have caps on the dollar amount purchased.

The second type of insurance policy is one that is sold by an individual who works at or is affiliated with selling what funeral homes refer too as pre-paid funeral plans. In Michigan, as well as many other states, this type of license is restricted to writing contracts of this nature only and in some cases have very limited dollar amount. The individuals/agents who write this type of contract/policy hold a “limited” life insurance license. Nationally, there are a handful of companies who sell this specific type of product as they are limited in scope, meaning there is usually a high average age, small commission and they have low dollar amounts in comparison to the traditional insurance mentions previously. Some of the most well-known pre-need insurance companies are Forethought, Homesteaders, NGL American, and Assurant.

To my point, the answer is “no,” funeral homes can not be designated as a beneficiary to a traditional type of insurance policy (translation -- a non-funeral related insurance policy). In the eyes of the law, this is a direct conflict of interest.

If the intent of the insurance policy is to pay for one’s funeral, there are some very simple legal solutions to accomplish paying for a funeral with a life insurance policy. 

One of the most common methods is to have the beneficiary of the insurance policy, after the death has occurred, sign an insurance assignment for the amount of the funeral only and request the remaining amount be sent them. Most funeral homes have a generic version of this form. Many of the insurance companies will accept this along with a certified death certificate. If any additional forms are needed, the insurance company will see to it that either the beneficiary or the funeral home, and/or both, receive the proper forms. 

Another method, which is a bit more labor intensive is to contact the insurance company directly after the policy as been issued and ask them if they have an “Irrevocable Trust” form. 

The purpose of an irrevocable trust is to hold the funds in an entity that can not be cashed in for any other purpose accept the insured’s funeral. These types of forms are only generated if an insurance policy has some form of cash value and or pays dividends. What this does is eliminate is the ability for the insured to take out a policy loan against the cash value. By assigning any form of cash value to the irrevocable trust and then taking the insurance company’s irrevocable trust form, along with the enforce policy to your funeral home of choice, then asking them to accept the funds placed in the irrevocable trust to be assigned to a funeral that will be delivered in the future, the insurance plan is considered exempt as an asset for Medicaid.

Below are the steps that have to happen for an Irrevocable Trust.

1. Traditional insurance policy must be issued and have some form of cash value.

2. Policy owner must contact the writing insurance company and ask them for their irrevocable trust form and any funeral home assignment forms they may have.

3. Policy owner must go to their funeral home of choice and ask the funeral home if they will accept the cash value as proceeds for their future funeral and will they “guarantee” merchandise or services for that amount. If the monies fall short of the funeral costs necessary the dollar amount can be placed towards the overall amount.

4. The funeral home must generate a guaranteed funeral goods and service statement and also sign an insurance assignment form. This means upon death they will accept the money from the insurance company AND the insurance company will send the funeral home their assigned portion after receipt of a certified death corticated and funeral bill.

The controversy with the above method is that some rather well known and large insurance companies have irrevocable trusts available, but won’t them available to their policyholders. This becomes problematic when a policyholder needs to qualify for financial aid for long term care (Medicaid) prior to death. If that policy can not be made irrevocable this places the entire policy in jeopardy, and potentially the ability to qualify for assistance.

If a policy holder is applying for Medicaid, one frequently used solution is to take out a policy loan against the cash value and immediately apply the cash value towards the purchase of a pre-paid funeral at a funeral home. This is much better than just surrendering the insurance policy over for the cash value. By doing this, the cash value is eliminated from the original life insurance policy; the cash value is placed in a specially designed funeral specific insurance policy that can be made irrevocable, therefore providing the policy owner with the best of both worlds. A life insurance that remains intact until death, a preplanned and pre-funded funeral, and the traditional insurance policy’s beneficiary will receive the balance left from the face amount of the insurance policy, minus the loan and any interest to cover the loan.

It looks like this.

$25,000 Face Value from ABC Insurance Company

Minus $10,000 Policy Loan (Zeroed out cash value, used to purchase a pre-paid Funeral insurance policy)

Equals $15,000 Balance at time of death

Minus $10,000 Loan amount ABC insurance company recovers from outstanding loan

Minus $300 interest (Whatever the interest rate is)

Equals $4,700.00 Back to beneficiary and funeral is paid in full.

So why all the fuss? There is disconnect in the law around this topic. There are laws that insurance companies follow. Laws that the funeral homes adhere too, caseworker guidelines/ manuals, and finally Medicaid qualification guidelines/ manuals, none of which are congruent in vernacular. This leaves the door wide open for subjective interpretation, as well as inconsistency between funeral homes and insurance companies.

 What’s the end result? Confusion! Confusion between all individuals or parties involved, who simply want to do the right thing and provide a means to an end.

So please keep in mind, many good people who are trying to do the right thing, can and do receive misinformation, which can and often does end up being fixable. However, what may seem relatively simple may be a very difficult task.

What are your thoughts? I'd love for you to continue this dialogue with me! Please share your thoughts at jodi@clockfuneralhome.com, Facebook, or my blog.

Visit Clock Funeral Home to learn more about what a Lifestory Funeral is, or their sister company Clock Timeless Pets or to purchase Navigating the Elder Care Journey…Without Going Broke! by Jodi Clock, go to Amazon.com.

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