Q.  My wife and I are being charged extra for Medicare Part B and prescription drug coverage premiums, apparently based upon our higher income in years past. Beginning last year, our income dropped significantly. Is there way to get the surcharges removed?

A.  Yes, if you can link the reduction in income to a “life changing event” as defined by Medicare.

First, a bit of background for our readers. Medicare premiums for 2017 are linked to your “Modified Adjusted Gross Income” (“MAG I”) as shown on your income tax return.  Higher-income Medicare beneficiaries (individuals who earn more than $85,000/year) pay higher Part B and Prescription Drug Benefit Premiums then lower income Medicare beneficiaries. The extra amount increases as the beneficiary’s income increases. The Social Security Administration uses income reported two years previous to determine a beneficiary’s current premiums. Thus, the income reported on a beneficiary’s 2015 tax return is used to determine whether the beneficiary must pay a higher monthly premium in 2017.  Here are the income brackets used by Medicare to add a surcharge:

Standard Bracket: For Individuals with a MAGI under $85,000 annually, or Married Couples with a MAGI under $170,000 annually, the Standard Premium for Part B is $134 per Month, but you may pay less this year if it is taken directly out of your social security benefits.  For Individuals above those numbers, the standard premium increases as follows:

Bracket #1: For individuals with MAGI above $85,000 and married couples with a MAGI above $170,000, the standard premium increases by $53.50 per person;

Bracket #2: For individuals with MAGI above $107,000 and married couples with MAGI above $214,000 the standard premium increases by $133.90;

Bracket # 3:  For individuals with MAGI above $160,000, and married couples with MAGI above $320,000, the standard premium increases by $214.30 per month.

Bracket #4:  For individuals with MAGI above $214,000 and married couples with MAGI above $428,000, the standard premium increases by $294.60 per month.

Likewise, there are corresponding increases in the prescription drug coverage monthly premium amounts, although not as dramatic as the Part B surcharge.

If your income has changed due to a significant event, there is a procedure to demonstrate that to Medicare and seek a reduction in your “add-on” monthly premiums for both Part B and Prescription Drug Coverage. The change must be linked to what Medicare considers a “life changing event”, which includes the following:

1) You married, divorced, or became widowed;

2) You or your spouse stopped working or reduced your work hours;

3) You or your spouse lost income-producing property because of a disaster or other event beyond your control;

4) You or your spouse experienced a scheduled cessation, termination, or reorganization of an employer’s pension plan, or received a settlement because of an employer’s closure, bankruptcy or reorganization.

If any of the above events apply to you, you may be eligible for a reduction in the monthly surcharges for both the Part B and Prescription Drug Coverage Premiums. To assist you, Medicare has a form called Form SSA – 44 [”Medicare Income -Related Monthly Adjustment Amount – Life-Changing Event”]. You can download it on line at www.SSA.gov, or you may request a copy by calling 1-800-772-1213. Your best bet is to complete the form and take it along with appropriate documentation to your local Social Security office. Good luck!

References:  Medicare Premiums: Rules for Higher-Income Beneficiaries”;

Q.  In connection with creating our estate planning documents, my husband and I would like to leave our children and grandchildren something more than just our money and assets. We would like to leave them a sense of our values. A friend mentioned something to us about an “Ethical Will”. Do you have any thoughts on this?

A, Yes. An Ethical Will is a statement in your own words expressing your values, hopes for the future, family history, emotions, and anything else that you would like to pass on to your loved ones.   It deals with values, rather than with assets. It is really a very old concept: one of the earliest references is found in the Book of Genesis, chapter 49, where Jacob gathers his 12 children around him and gives them his charge for their futures.

Initially, Ethical Wills were transmitted orally, but eventually they were written down. Although an ethical will is not a legal document, it can be a valuable complement to legal documents.   It can be an expression of love, a statement of personal or family history, a statement of lessons learned in life, a wish for the future of your loved ones, or anything else that you would like to pass on down as a personal legacy.

It is really a personal statement that carries your “voice” to future generations. It can be as simple as a one-page letter of love, or a novella length memoir detailing your life experiences.

In our family, we actually went a step further and videotaped my grandmother over a number of sittings, a project that ultimately took approximately 2 years to complete. We began with her earliest memories of growing up in Europe and covered all the history forward, all in her own voice. At times she broke into song, especially when our young children toddled into the room. That videotape, since turned into a DVD for preservation, is now a cherished family heirloom and each member of the family has a copy. We view it from time to time at family gatherings.

If you wish, your “Ethical Will” can be shared with your loved ones during your lifetime, and you might even add to it from time to time. It is your spiritual legacy which can live on long after your will or trust has been permanently filed away.

Q. I was thinking about naming my minor grandchildren as beneficiaries of my IRA, to inherit in the event of my demise. But I heard something about the “Kiddie Tax” that might apply here. Can you share any thoughts about this?

A. Yes, the so-called “Kiddie Tax” is essentially a special tax that was adopted years ago to limit the ability of parents or grandparents to shift income-generating assets to minor children or grandchildren in order to reduce the family’s overall income tax burden. This rule needs to be considered when leaving IRA’s and other income generating assets to minors, whether they be children or grandchildren.

Here’s the way the Kiddie Tax works: For 2017, the first $1,050 of unearned income to the minor is tax-free, and the next $1,050 is taxed at the child’s own (usually, lower) tax rate.  But here’s the catch: Any additional income is taxed at the parent’s rate, which could be as high as 35 percent.  The Kiddie Tax applies to the following youngsters:  individuals under age 18, individuals who are age 18 and have earned income that is less than or equal to half their support for the year, and individuals who are age 19 to 23 and full-time students.

Grandparents may be tempted to leave an IRA to a grandchild because children have a low tax rate, but the “kiddie tax” could make doing this less beneficial. Before doing so, the grandparent should run the numbers and determine whether the income generated by the IRA, as well as any other unearned investment income of the child, will likely put the youngster over the exemption of $2,100 (for 2017), and thereby — at least partially — defeat the income-shifting plan.  While an IRA can be a great gift, consider the following:

On the “plus” side: A young person who inherits an IRA has to take Required Minimum Distributions (“RMD’s”), but because the distributions are based on the beneficiary’s longer life expectancy, the grandchild’s RMD’s each year from the IRA will likely be small and thus allow the bulk of the IRA to continue to grow, tax deferred, over a longer period. So, if the RMD’s to go to the grand child, combined with any other investment income, would be less than $2,100 per year (2017), naming a grandchild as your beneficiary might be a good plan.

On the “minus” side:  If the grandchild’s unearned income is expected to be greater than $2,100 per year (in 2017), the excess will be taxed at the child’s parent’s rate, which would usually be much higher and could be as high as 35%.  Note:  In addition to income from IRAs, the kiddie tax applies to other investments that generate unearned income to the youngster, such as from cash, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and real estate.

If grandparents wish to leave investments to their grandchildren, they might be better off leaving investments that appreciate in value, but don’t generate income until the investment is sold. As an alternative, Grandparents could leave grandchildren a Roth IRA, because the distributions are tax-free.

My suggestion is that you meet with your tax advisor and evaluate whether your proposed gift makes sense for you. In the right situation, an IRA can be a great gift to a grandchild.

References: “IRS “Publication 929 (2016), Tax Rules for Children and Dependents”; Wikipedia Article; Internal Revenue Code § 1(g); IRS:  “Topic 553:  Tax on a Child’s Investment and Other Unearned Income (Kiddie Tax)”


Q.  Years ago, when my mother and father created their powers of attorney, they each appointed the other as their first choice agent, and appointed me, their son, as first successor. Neither of my parents is now able to handle their own affairs, nor act as agent for the other. How do I step in as their successor? Their form Powers of Attorney do not give me any guidance.

A. Your question is a good one, as most basic powers of attorney do not provide guidance. The important point to note is that your authority to take over as their successor agent is not automatic. It requires affirmative action on your part to establish their incapacity.

My guess is that each of your parents probably signed a very basic power of attorney (“POA”) form, very likely the “California Uniform Statutory Form Power Of Attorney”, or something similar.  If so, the form only recites that if the first choice agent is “not willing or able to serve”, then the nomination passes to the designated successor. The absence of guidance as to how that is determined can lead to reluctance on the part of third parties to accept the successor’s authority to act, often just when the need is greatest.

That said, what banks and other third parties usually expect is that you present one or, preferably, two letters from each of your parents’ physicians reciting that each is unable to handle their own affairs, nor act as agent for the other, with a brief statement of  the reason, e.g. advanced dementia. With those letters in hand, you should be able to induce the banks to honor your authority as successor agent.

Looking back, it would have been helpful if your parents had each signed a formal resignation as agent for the other, when each realized that their own ability to handle financial affairs was waning. Then your authority to act would now be clear.  We actually advise clients who sign POA’s, or who accept appointments as agent for another, to consider this option from time to time, so as to make things easier for the designated successor.

If the banks or other third parties are unwilling to accept your authority, you may need to be more aggressive, perhaps pointing out that if you are forced to commence legal proceedings to confirm your authority, the bank may be liable for your attorney fees if the court rules in your favor.

In requesting that your parents’ physicians write letters, you may find that their doctors have their own concerns about the disclosure of your parents’ medical information that preparing such letters would entail. While this is sometimes a problem due to medical privacy laws, in practice it has been less of an obstacle, especially if their physicians feel that you are acting in your parents’ best interests.

If all else fails, you may need to engage an attorney to petition the Superior Court to seek an order affirming your authority as your parents’ successor agent, or to seek a formal order appointing you as their conservator. An appointment as conservator would override their powers of attorney and give you the authority that you seek to manage your parents’ affairs.

 

 

 

Q.  I hear there is a new law which protects widows from losing their homes in foreclosure when a spouse dies. Do you know anything about that?

A.   Yes. I believe you refer to the “Survivor Bill Of Rights” (SB 1150), effective January 1, 2017.  SB 1150 now imposes certain responsibilities upon a mortgage lender when the borrower dies and leaves a surviving homeowner who is not on the loan. This situation could easily occur, for example, where a borrower remarries after taking out the loan. The survivor in these cases is most often a senior, and usually a woman who must now struggle to make the mortgage payment without the income of her deceased spouse.

Under prior law, mortgage lenders often took the position that a non-borrowing spouse or child had no right to even receive information about the decedent’s loan, and no right to apply for a loan modification to enable them to keep the home. As a result, many homes were lost through foreclosure.

Under SB 1150, the law now extends to the surviving, non-borrowing home-owner the same rights that the borrower had under pre-existing law, known as the “Homeowner’s Bill Of Rights”, which protects the borrower’s own right to secure loan information and to apply for a loan modification where necessary.

Previously, some lenders took the Catch-22 position with non-borrower survivors that they would not even consider a loan modification until the loan was first brought current, which itself was often impossible without the corresponding opportunity to arrange a loan modification. Some lenders even proceeded with foreclosure proceedings while the non-borrowing family member was attempting a rescue of the home loan.

SB 1150 now requires mortgage lenders to provide relevant loan information about the status of the loan to the deceased borrower’s “successors in interest”, to afford the successors a reasonable opportunity to apply to assume the loan and/or for a loan modification, and to delay foreclosure proceedings while this process is underway.

A “successor in interest” is defined as a surviving spouse, domestic partner, joint tenant, parent, grandparent, adult child, adult grandchild, or adult sibling who occupied the property as his/her principal residence within the six months prior to the borrower’s death, and who can demonstrate that he or she has an ownership interest in the home. The successor may acquire his/her ownership  interest by reason of the death of the borrower, e.g. pursuant to a Will or Trust, or by reason of being an heir-at-law if the borrower died without a Will.

Significantly, the new law does not impose upon the lender an affirmative obligation to actually grant the requested loan modification. It only requires that the lender provide relevant information about the loan and afford the decedent’s successor(s) a reasonable opportunity to qualify for foreclosure prevention alternatives offered by the lender, subject to its credit guidelines. It also prevents the lender from proceeding with a foreclosure while the application is pending.

SB 1150 only applies to first deeds of trust secured by owner-occupied residential real property containing up to four (4) dwelling units, and does not apply to Reverse Mortgages. Even though so limited, the new law can be a lifesaver for surviving family members who would otherwise be unable to even secure loan information necessary to enable them to apply for a loan modification to save their home.

For more information on this new law, go to https://SurvivorBillofRights.org/. For advocacy assistance visit Housing and Economic Rights Advocates at www.heraca.org or call the organization at 510-271-8443.

References:  Text of New Law: SB 1150; also see Survivor Bill of Rights.Org;  and see Frequently Asked Questions.  For attorneys assisting clients with foreclosure problems, visit California Homeowners Bill of Rights; For more information on the predecessor Homeowner Bill of Rights, click HBOR.

Q.  My wife and I were wondering how much we could leave to our children free of any gift or estate tax?

A.  The answer may surprise you. A married couple can actually transfer to up to $10,980,000 to their children, free of any gift or estate tax (in 2017). You can either do so by either making lifetime gifts, or by leaving it to them as an inheritance. You can actually mix-and-match: you can gift a portion of this exemption amount to them during your lifetimes by way of gifts, and the balance upon death by way of your will or trust.

This comes as a surprise to many couples, who mistakenly believe that they are limited to gifts of $14,000 per year per child. Not so. The $14,000 per year Annual Exclusion Amount (“AEA”) is merely the amount that each of you may gift annually to as many individuals as you wish, without the need to file a gift tax return.  If you were so inclined, you and your wife could each make a $14,000 gift to every single person in your neighborhood without the need to file a single gift tax return!

More realistically, married couples typically prefer to leave their assets to each other, first, and then to their children. Under tax laws signed by President Obama in 2010 and 2013, each person has an exemption from the federal estate tax of more than $5 million. This exemption adjusts each year based upon inflation. For an individual dying in 2017, that exemption is now $5,490,000.  If a married person dies without using his entire exemption, the unused portion may be timely claimed by his surviving spouse, who thereby preserves it for later use to combine with her own exemption. The deceased spouse’s unused portion is called the Deceased Spouse’s Unused Exclusion Amount (“DSUEA” for short).

This transferability of the DSUEA to the surviving spouse is called “portability”. In essence, the unused portion of the first spouse’s exemption may be “ported”, or transferred, to the surviving spouse, assuming a timely election is made by the survivor.

Example:  Bob and Sue have an estate worth $9 million. Bob dies in 2017 and leaves everything to Sue. Everything passes to Sue without tax under the Unlimited Marital Deduction available to transfers between spouses. So Bob’s entire DSUEA is therefore unused. Sue’s CPA helps her make a timely election to claim Bob’s DSUEA by filing a Form 706 Estate Tax Return.  For simplicity, assume Sue also dies in 2017 and that her estate is then still worth $9 million.  Her estate would then be entitled to all of Bob’s unused DSUEA, plus her own exemption, so she could then leave $5,490,000 + $5,490,000 = $10,980,000 to their children, estate tax free. This plan completely tax shelters the estate passing to their children. Caution: if Sue does not made a timely election to port Bob’s DSUEA, then the excess value of her estate above $5,490,000 would be subject to estate tax, at the very hefty rate of 40%, resulting in an estate tax of over $1.4 million.

By combining your exemptions via a timely election after the first death, you and your wife can minimize, or even eliminate, estate tax for your children. Note: The ability to port over the DSUEA is more complicated if the survivor later remarries, but even then there are planning options available to minimize tax.

Q.  I hear that the federal estate tax may be repealed during this administration. If that happens, will trusts still be a useful estate planning device?

A.  In a word, yes. But remember, the federal estate tax now only kicks in if your estate is valued at more than $5.49 Million at death (2017). At this high threshold, 99% of Americans will never need to worry about the estate tax and so, as for them, the estate tax has already been “repealed”. Yet trusts continue to be used as a common estate planning device and their utility has not diminished. Here are some of the nontax benefits of creating a trust:

  • Avoiding Probate: One of the great benefits of using a revocable trust, in preference to a will, is that a trust is designed to avoid probate. In California, probate is a court proceeding whereby a judge oversees the settling of your estate. The process tends to be time-consuming, expensive and public. By contrast, the postmortem settling of a trust is usually more expeditious, less expensive and private.
  • Management upon Disability: If you were to become disabled, and unable to manage your assets, your designated successor trustee could step forward and manage them for you, and thereby avoid the need for a court created conservatorship, which is a more involved, expensive and public proceeding. By contrast, a simple will would only kick in upon death, and therefore would not provide you any benefits for asset management during life. Note: a comprehensive Durable Power Of Attorney (“DPOA”) would be another alternative to management of your financial assets in the event of disability; but the DPOA expires on death, making a trust the better option for uninterrupted asset management.
  • Protection from Creditors: Certain types of trusts can protect your beneficiaries from creditors. By way of example, if you had a child who was a spendthrift, you could appoint a trustee to manage that child’s share of your estate in a “Discretionary Support Trust”, which could remain in existence well after your demise. The trustee might be authorized to retain that child’s share in trust and pay out only as much as necessary for his needs. Under that arrangement, your child’s unpaid creditors would not be able to seize any part of his share which remained in trust.
  • Provide for a Child with Special Needs: If you have a child, or grandchild, with a disability who relies upon public benefits, such as Medi-Cal or SSI, you could leave his share in a “Special Needs Trust” (“SNT”). A SNT is a special trust designed to hold assets for the benefit of a person on public benefits in a manner that does not undermine his ongoing eligibility for those benefits. The trustee would then use the SNT funds to supplement your child’s public benefits and thereby enhance his quality-of-life.
  • Avoid Medi-Cal Recovery: Because of recent changes in the law, the estates of persons dying after January 1, 2017, who have received Medi-Cal benefits during life, will no longer be subject to recovery (or “payback”), if their estates do not go through probate. Since a trust is typically designed to avoid probate, holding assets inside a trust can thus avoid Medi-Cal recovery and potentially save their estates many thousands of dollars.

A trust can be as useful today as in years past, and you should still give serious consideration to using this device as part of your estate plan.

Q: My friends and I were recently discussing powers of attorney. It seems that we have different understandings as to what they look like and how they can be used. Can you provide me with a short lesson which I can share with them?

A. Sure. Powers of attorney are very important legal documents. In their basic structure you (the principal)  delegate to someone whom you trust (your agent or “attorney-in-fact”) the power to engage in financial transactions in your name,  using your assets, with the same legal effect as if you had signed the transaction documents yourself.  But all powers of attorney (“POA”) are not the same. Here is a short list of some variations:

Is It Durable?  Unless the document expressly so provides, a POA expires when the principal loses mental capacity.  However, this feature may be overcome if the document provides that it is “durable,” meaning that it survives the principal’s incapacity. In almost every case, you will want a power of attorney to recite that it is durable, as that is usually when it is needed most.

Is It a “Springing” Power?  A POA can either be immediately effective or it can be effective only upon the occurrence of a future event, such as incapacity. If triggered by a future event, we refer to this as a “springing power,” because it only springs into life upon the occurrence of that future event. Example: Many POA’s are designed to spring into life only when a physician certifies that the principal has lost mental capacity.

Is It Limited Or General? A POA can either be limited in scope (e.g. authorizing an agent to sign a deed and other documents to close a specific sale escrow) or be limited in time with a fixed expiration date, or it can be very general and comprehensive in nature. 

Does It Permit Modification of Trust? If you have complete confidence in your agent, you may wish to authorize your agent to make future modifications to your “Living Trust” in order to address changes in family circumstances, changes in tax law and/or to engage in public benefits planning on your behalf.  But in order for these powers to be effective, there must also be reciprocal provisions in your trust, a legal requirement too often overlooked. However, your agent may not make a Will for you. 

Does it Permit Gifting and/or Long Term Care Benefits Planning? By California law, an agent cannot use the principal’s assets to make gifts, unless that power is expressly granted in the POA.  Further, even if this power is expressly granted, the agent cannot make gifts to himself unless the right to “Self Deal” is also expressly stated.  Sometimes the power to make gifts can be very important, such as for tax planning or planning for eligibility under the Medi-Cal or Veterans Pension programs to help with long term care expenses.

Unfortunately, we find that very few POA’s contain these important powers, or impose limits upon exercise, which reduce the planning opportunities available to the agent.

In every case, the POA can only be created when the principal has mental capacity to understand what he or she is signing and all expire upon the death of the principal.  Lastly, a POA for financial matters cannot authorize health care decisions: for that another document is necessary,  called an Advance Healthcare Directive.

Q. My primary asset is my home, which I purchased about 40 years ago and now own free and clear. I would like to leave it to my children, but in a way that avoids the fuss of a probate or trust administration when I die. Is there some way to do this?

A.  Yes, indeed. You might consider leaving it to your children via a Life Estate Deed. A Life Estate Deed (“LED”) is a special kind of deed which you would sign and record now, but which would transfer your home to your children effective upon your death, while reserving to you the exclusive right to live in your home during your lifetime. Upon your death, your children’s interest would mature into a full ownership interest

One of the nice features of this LED, is that the clearing of title upon your demise is very simple.  At that time, your children need only file with the county recorder an affidavit reciting the fact of your death, along with a certified copy of your Death Certificate and other routine transfer documents.  There is no probate and no trust administration to deal with.

However, as with many legal matters, there are “Pros” and “Cons” to using this special deed. Here are some of them:

Advantages:

1) Upon your demise, clearing title and confirming ownership in your children is a simple procedure, handled without probate or trust administration.

2) The home would receive the same favorable tax treatment accorded a transfer, upon death, via a Living Trust or Will: Your children would receive the home with a tax basis equal to its increased value at your death, thus minimizing any capital gain tax if they later sell the home.

3) Should you ever apply for a Medi-Cal Long Term Care subsidy to help with nursing home expense, the home would be protected from a post-mortem recovery claim for reimbursement.

4) In terms of title insurance, this LED is better than the new Transfer on Death (TOD) Deed, as many title companies are unwilling to insure the transfer of title where the newer, TOD Deed has been used.

Disadvantages:

1) Once the deed is signed and conveyed, you cannot change your mind by revoking the conveyance.

2) Once the deed is executed, you would not be able to obtain a conventional or reverse mortgage secured by the home.

3) Once done, you could not sell the home without agreement of your children, and if sold, the proceeds must be “split”.  This restriction could impair your ability to sell the home to help fund your own retirement or long term care expenses.

4) Disputes may arise regarding responsibility for repairs or improvements.

5) If any of your children predecease you, their interest would go as they direct in their own trust or will or, if none, to their heirs-at-law. Thus, you would no longer control the ultimate disposition of their interest.

While many of these disadvantages can be eliminated by creating a formal “Living Trust”, the trade-off is the greater expense of creating a trust, and the time and expense of a formal, post-mortem trust administration upon your demise.

Before making the decision to use a LED — rather than a “Living Trust” or Will–  it would be wise to seek professional advice from a knowledgeable attorney to make sure that this special deed is right for you.

Q.  My wife and I have about $10,000 in credit card debt that we struggle to pay each month. Our incomes are very modest and all from Social Security and my work Pension. Is there any way that we can legally avoid paying this debt without dire consequences?

A.  Very likely, yes. Generally speaking, income from Social Security, work pensions, VA Benefits and disability income is protected, by federal law, from collection by non-governmental creditors. If these are your sources of income, you could very well just stop paying and you would still receive your full incomes each month. Indeed, it is not a crime to stop paying a bill, especially if continuing to pay would deprive you of the basic necessities of life. Many seniors are both surprised, and relieved, to learn of this.

Although your creditors may be aware that these source of income are exempt from collection, some may nevertheless attempt, by repeated phone calls, to coerce you into paying these uncollectible bills.  You can easily put a stop to this. Under the federal “Fair Debt Collection Practices Act”, you may send a letter to your creditors demanding that they cease all further efforts to communicate with you by mail or phone. The creditors must then immediately cease all further communication. Such letters should be sent Certified, Return Receipt Requested, so you have proof of mailing. The creditor then has the option of writing off the debt as uncollectible, or filing a lawsuit to obtain a judgment. Unless the debt is large, many creditors just write off the debt and close their file.

What if one of your creditors opts to file a lawsuit and obtain a judgment? Answer: They still will not be able to go after your income if it is from one of the sources mentioned above. True, if you own a home, they could obtain a judgment and record a lien against your home. But, even then, that is usually not as bad as it sounds: attempting to collect a judgment by foreclosing on an individual’s home is a cumbersome and expensive process, and most creditors would prefer to just record the judgment and then let it just sit there, accruing interest, to be paid out of escrow only when you someday sell or transfer your home or borrow against it.

There are some exceptions to the above: if you owe money for unpaid taxes or other obligations to federal agencies, such as unpaid student loans, they may garnish up to 15% of your social security income. But, even here, there are options  to avoid collection, upon a proper showing that you need all of your income for your basic necessities.  Another exception is unpaid child or spousal support.

Before deciding upon the best plan in your case, it would be wise to seek legal advice.  To aid you, there is a very low cost resource available to low income seniors and the disabled. It is a non-profit law firm called ‘Help Eliminate Legal Problems for Seniors’ (“HELPS”).  For a very nominal monthly fee, based on a sliding income scale (which can be as low as $5/month, or even for free), they will counsel you, call creditors on your behalf, and help you write “Cease and Desist Letters”. You may contact them for assistance on line at www.HelpsIsHere.org or by calling 1-855-435-7787.