The Affordable Care Act was upheld by the Supreme Court, with Chief Justice Robert joining the four “liberals” to find the law constitutional. Briefly:

The big four changes are: parents can keep their children on the parents’ policies until the child reaches 26; by 2014 people with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied insurance; policies cannot be canceled except in the cases of fraud or intentional misrepresentation, and there can be no limit on lifetime and annual limits.

In 2013: Companies will be required to provide information to employees regarding health care exchanges and there will be a $2,500 cap on annual flexible spending accounts

In 2014: Companies with 50 or more employees must provide health care with minimum coverage or pay a “penalty” or “tax”; companies with 25 or less full time employees may receive a tax credit; incentives to provide wellness programs increase, companies with more than 200 employees must automatically enroll employees into a group health plan; state health insurance exchanges are to coordinate the purchase of private sector insurance; and employers cannot make employees wait more than 90 days before they receive insurance.

California has passed legislation that requires behavioral therapy for autism, which affects 1 out of every 88 children, to be a covered condition.

Quotables: The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits. ~ Albert Einstein.

If you have an internet account, make sure that you have either written the password(s) and codes in your estate planning documents or given them to someone you trust. As more and more activity is done online, this is increasingly important.

According to Dan Kinney of the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, elder abuse most commonly occurs where the elders are isolated; live alone; are dependent on another; physically or mentally disabled; and possess accumulated wealth. Common abusers are family members; caretakers; con artists; elder service providers; neighbors and employees; telemarketers; organized transient crime families (don’t let someone in unless you expect them to be there, even if they’re wearing a uniform); and new friends (if you’re 80 it’s probably not your mojo she’s after).

Books: Two great books I’ve read this year are Coming Apart by Charles Murray (about social trends leading to dissolution of families and society) and Storms of My Grandchildren, by noted climate scientist James Hansen (regarding global warming and weather changes).

Beware of non-attorneys who draft legal documents for you cheaply so you can “save money by avoiding attorneys”. Over the years I have come across several cases where such services did anything but save my clients money.

As always, I remind you that if I have done a trust for you, you should contact me every five years or when there is a major life event. Also, if you take your house out of the trust to refinance your mortgage, be sure the house is put back into the trust when the refinance is completed. And, ALWAYS be on the lookout for identity theft. Guard your personal information zealously.

If you do not have a HIPAA release form attached to your Advance Health Care Directive or Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, contact me to get a HIPAA release form.

As usual, this year I planted 13 more trees to offset the carbon footprint of my office and family, for a total of 78 trees to date. This office also donates to KPCC public radio KCET, the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, the Sierra Club, the American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Doctors Without Borders and FINCA (which makes micro loans). I do this with a broader interpretation of “estate” to include not just the money I leave behind but trying to leave the world and environment a little bit better, too.

New Areas:

1) I provide basic, conservative, investment advice.

2) I provide basic income tax preparation services. I will charge you 25% less than your former preparer when you give me copies of the final bill and your 2012 taxes.

3) My Spanish speaking wife, Yvonne, continues to help me with Spanish speaking clients. Yvonne is also available to provide caregiver services by separate arrangement (telephone: 818-613-9251).

If you have a legal problem outside of my areas of practice, (wills and trusts, trust administration, conservatorships, probate, social security disability, basic investment advice, basic tax preparation), please feel free to call for a referral to another attorney who can possibly assist you.

And finally, I wish each of you a healthy and happy holiday season!

Brian Sheppard