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John Griffin Watts
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John Watts’s Answers

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  • Can sallie mae give me summons papers to appear in court for a $3,000 defaulted private student loan?

    I received summons papers to appear in court for a Sallie Mae Student Loan that hasn't been paid. Sallie Mae Representatives always called me when or if my loan was in default and I always paid $50 to keep it in forbearance (which I thought was ri...

    John’s Answer

    Wilson's answer is very good. The only thing I'll add is Sallie Mae has to prove its case against you. This is a private student loan so there is a statue of limitations. Often we see private student loan lawsuits are filed outside the statute of limitations.

    But if you default -- don't answer -- then Sallie Mae will win even if you don't owe the debt or even if it was too late for Sallie Mae to sue on.

    Beyond the statute of limitations Sallie Mae must prove it owns the debt.

    There is not enough information in your question to know if you have any defenses to this lawsuit but, as Wilson suggested, get with a consumer lawyer in Alabama who does this type of work so you can find out your options.

    Best wishes....

    John Watts
    Birmingham, Alabama

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  • Can you tell me how the chart for penalty works regarding the $13,000 gift and medicaid in NC? Is there a formula?

    My mother did the gift to me for $13,000 for the past 5 out of seven years. Is it better to redeposit the gift or take the penalty for her room for the penalty period? The nursing home has told us the rate for private pay is $7140. Does DSS us...

    John’s Answer

    The short answer is do what the other lawyers have said -- you must get with an elder law lawyer in your area.

    There is no "quick" answer on whether you should give the money back or take the penalty or just wait before applying for Medicaid.

    What other gifts were made by your mother to anyone else or any other organization (charities, etc)?

    How much money does she have to privately pay at 7k a month?

    Do you have the money to give back to her?

    Are her assets owned outright by her or owned in an irrevocable trust?

    Point is there are lots of questions.

    Be prepared to do some work to gather all of the info and then pay for an analysis of your mother's options. Making the wrong decision can cost her and your family hundreds of thousands of dollars so it is worth figuring out a great roadmap to get from where your mother is now to where she wants to go.

    Best wishes

    John Watts
    Birmingham, Alabama

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  • If placed in a nursing home, does this cancel lifetime estate rights to my home?

    Can the home be sold immediately if I'm still alive? If so, how long would a relative have to remove my belongings (he is also living in the house as my caretaker).

    John’s Answer

    As Wilson mentioned there are different issues involved here.

    If you go in a nursing home, you either need to pay for it privately (your own money, long term care insurance), pay for it with VA Pension (Aid and Attendance) or Alabama Medicaid.

    If you qualify for Alabama Medicaid you do not have to sell your home if you own it outright or have a life estate in it. Medicaid does NOT require you to lose your home -- it simply has the right to put a lien on your home that you own under some circumstances.

    This is a common myth -- you must sell your home before qualifying for Medicaid. The truth is your home is an "exempt" asset -- it does not count towards the amount of assets you are allowed to have when you qualify for Medicaid.

    As a general rule you can only have $2000 in assets -- but..... Your home doesn't count. Your car doesn't count. Certain other items don't count. And if you have a spouse your spouse can keep a certain amount.

    I suggest you get with an elder law attorney to find out your options and to get clear on whether you own your home outright or have a life estate in it.

    Best wishes

    John Watts
    Birmingham, Alabama

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  • Am I legally allowed to get a copy of a credit report a potential landlord ran?

    I had a credit report ran by a potential landlord. The application came back "declined" but he refuses to give me a copy of the report

    John’s Answer

    You should receive a letter called a notice of adverse action which tells you that part of the reason you were denied is because of information on your credit report and it will tell you which credit report is involved.

    You will then be told how you can get a copy of the report.

    The big three bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) are the ones we normally think of but there are literally hundreds of reports. Some are for renting an apartment. Some are for truck drivers.

    Point is to get the adverse action notice and figure out which report is involved -- then get that report.

    If there is false information, dispute it properly and it will come off or you can sue.

    Best wishes

    John Watts
    Birmingham, Alabama

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  • All income just covers Assisted Living the suit will take away all money to pay for care. Can a company do that?

    My mother just got a letter saying she is being suited for $4700 debt. She is in assisted living and her basic cost of living exceeds her income, so she has no money to settle or to be paid if ordered to. Is there anything we ca do to stop the s...

    John’s Answer

    I defend consumers sued by debt collectors and I also practice Elder Law. Here are my thoughts:

    1. As suggested in the first answer, is your mother a veteran or a widow of a veteran? If so, she may be entitled to VA Pension (Aid and Attendance) which is for war time veterans (or widows) -- this could pay her up over a thousand dollars a month.

    2. If you ignore the suit, a default judgment will be entered against your mother. Does she have property? A bank account with anything other than Social Security/Pension money in it? All of that could be in jeapordy of being garnished. A judgment is also negative on her credit report which may or may not be a concern.

    3. You should sit down with a consumer attorney to find out the options on the lawsuit. It may be as simple as letting the collection attorney know there is no money or assets. It may be easy to win the lawsuit especially if it is brought by a debt collector (debt buyer). We routinely win these cases and then sue the debt buyer in federal court. Or you may be able to work out a very modest repayment plan.

    Here's bottom line -- you've done the right thing asking questions instead of ignoring the lawsuit. Now keep pushing forward to specific answers from a consumer lawyer in your state. If your mother is a veteran or widow of a veteran, also chat with an elder law attorney as that may be a source of income for her.

    Best wishes...

    John Watts
    Birmingham, Alabama

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  • Dr went in to perform a l5/s1 anterior fusion. After 13 days of insisting I had no feeling in my leg and being ignored I went

    To the Hospital for a ct which showed a screw 5mm into the nerve root on the back side. He did emergency surgery the next morning, said feeling would be back immediately, NOT! He lied and did not disclose his knowledge of issues in first surgery(n...

    John’s Answer

    Short answer is get with a lawyer in Alabama asap. There are not many lawyers that are skilled in malpractice -- feel free to get with me and I'll give you some recommendations. I try cases in federal court but malpractice is not my area of expertise.

    Longer answer is medical malpractice in Alabama is tough -- because of our special laws and in general our juries tend to be sympathetic with doctors (and to a lesser extent hospitals/nurses). You have 2 years to file suit but I would not delay. You need to connect right now with the right lawyer to figure out your options. Its been a few years since I have handled a med mal case but they tend to be very expensive -- 100k or so to prepare -- so lawyers are very very selective in what they will take. It will be helpful for you to start looking now for a lawyer.

    I'm sorry this happened to you and I hope that you are able to fully recover physically and then you also get the financial compensation you deserve.

    Best wishes

    John Watts
    Birmingham, Alabama

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  • What legally/financially am I responsible for with my 19 and 22 year old stepchildren regarding medical bills on my insurance?

    Last year I hesitantly added my two stepchildren to my employer insurance benefits. The oldest listed my husband and I as responsible for their psych visits. She has accrued multiple ER visits, ICU stays, therapy sessions, etc. I will need to div...

    John’s Answer

    Everything depends on exactly what documents were signed but as a general rule just because someone is on your policy does not mean you are responsible for the deductibles, co-pays, etc.

    As the previous answer suggests, gather up all of your bills and information and then sit down with someone -- an attorney or a health care advocate.

    You may want to make it clear to your adult step children that they should not list you as being responsible for their bills unless you agree to this.

    I know this is frustrating dealing with medical billing -- but just get started with compiling everything and then meet with someone to figure up your options.

    John Watts

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  • Question about Va Benefit, living trust and selling of home.

    Hi, my mother is in an assistive living center with alzheimers. She receives aid and attendence through the va. She also has a living trust which includes her home. As DPOA if I sell her home is the money considered income by the VA? I tried to ge...

    John’s Answer

    The other answers are right -- selling the home will not be income but will be an increase in assets which could push your mother over the asset limit and cut off her Aid and Attendance benefits.

    One thing to keep in mind is that you also need to consider Medicaid if she ever needs to go on Medicaid.

    The general rule is that if there is no gift -- but instead a fair market value transfer -- then Medicaid normally doesn't have a problem (at least in Alabama). So get with an elder law lawyer in your state to evaluate both the implications of the sale of the home on VA benefits but also on what it might do with Medicaid benefits if she ever needs them.

    Best wishes and you were very smart to raise this question -- so often people take action without knowing the right way to go and it becomes more difficult (and frankly more expensive) to fix the problem after the fact.

    John Watts
    Birmingham, Alabama

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  • Can my Mothers vehicle be reclaimed in order to pay Medicaid benefits paid to nursing home if the vehicle is put in my name.

    My Mother has been covered on Medicaid for many years but is now about to enter a nursing home facility. She has one vehicle in her name but she signed it over to me several months ago, so that in the event of her death I could send the title in a...

    John’s Answer

    As pointed out in the other answers -- you need to get with a Medicaid Planning (Elder Law) lawyer asap. Simple things like gifts can have terrible consequences for families and your state may (or may not) allow the return of gifts to avoid a penalty period.

    I'm a bit unclear -- you say she is on Medicaid. Do you mean Medicare? If she has already qualified under Medicaid, then this might not be as big of an issue but you still need to get with a lawyer to find out. Often we can make mistakes by not checking with an expert in our state.

    Best wishes as you are having to deal with this tough situation.

    John Watts
    Birmingham, Alabama

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  • Is it possible to do a chapter 7 when your laywer only corresponds with me through the mail?

    i have only seen my lawyer once. she sends me letters telling me what she needs and i take a package with all the documents that she requests to the lady at the front desk of her office. she never returns my calls. the last corresponence i reciev...

    John’s Answer

    The other answers nail the issue -- you should be able to meet with your lawyer. Sometimes as lawyers we may not make our clients come see us if they live far away or have medical or other issues that prevent them from coming to see us.

    But as a general rule I want to meet my clients. I want to see them face to face.

    My suggestion is write your lawyer -- explain your concerns -- and ask her to meet with you to solve the problem.

    A good lawyer will do this and often times there is simply a misunderstanding that gets resolved easily. If it doesn't, then you need to decide if you want to move forward with your lawyer -- your advisor and counselor -- being someone you can't even meet with....

    Best wishes

    John Watts
    Birmingham, Alabama

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