When Should I Start Looking into Long-Term Care?

You can bet that you won’t need long-term care in your lifetime, but it’s not a sure thing: about 70% of seniors 65 and older require long-term care at some point. That could be just a few months with a home health aide or it could mean a year (or more) of nursing home care. You can’t know for sure. However, without long-term care insurance, you run the risk that you’ll be forced to cover a very large expense on your own.

The Motley Fool’s recent article, “75% of Older Americans Risk This Major Expense in the Future,” says many older workers are going into retirement without long-term care coverage in place. In a recent Nationwide survey, 75% of future retirees aged 50 and over said they that don’t have long-term care insurance. If that’s you, you should begin considering it, because the older you get, the more difficult it becomes to qualify, and the more expensive it becomes.

Long-term care insurance can be costly, which is why many people don’t buy it. However, the odds are that your policy won’t be anywhere near as expensive as the actual price for the care you could end up needing. That’s why it’s important to look at your options for long-term care insurance. The ideal time to apply is in your mid-50s. At that age, you’re more likely to be approved along with some discounts on your premiums. If you wait too long, you’ll risk being denied or seeing premiums that are prohibitively expensive.

Note that not all policies are not the same. Therefore, you should look at what items are outside of your premium costs. This may include things such as the maximum daily benefit the policy permits or the maximum time frame covered by your policy. It should really be two years at a minimum. There are policies written that have a waiting period for having your benefits kick in and others that either don’t have one or have shorter time frames. Compare your options and see what makes the most sense.

You don’t necessarily need the most expensive long-term care policy available. If you’ve saved a good amount for retirement, you’ll have the option of tapping your IRA or 401(k) to cover the cost of your care. The same is true if you own a home worth a lot of money, because you can sell it or borrow against it.

It’s important to remember to explore your options for long-term care insurance, before that window of opportunity shuts because of age or health problems. Failing to secure a policy could leave you to cover what could be a devastatingly expensive bill.

Reference: Motley Fool (September 23, 2019) “75% of Older Americans Risk This Major Expense in the Future”

What Changes Will Be Made to Social Security This Year?

While Social Security now delivers benefit checks to more than 63 million people every month, the program is primarily designed to provide a financial foundation for our nation’s retired workers. Nearly 45 million retired workers (70% of all beneficiaries) receive a benefit check monthly, with more than 60% of these seniors expecting their payout to make up at least half of their income.

Motley Fool’s recent article, “5 Social Security Changes in 2020 That Could Affect Your Take-Home Income” explains that with the relative importance of Social Security, it should come as no shock that the second week of October holds considerable importance to these tens of millions of Americans. That’s because it’s when the Social Security Administration (SSA) announces changes to the program for the upcoming year. Any changes could directly affect what beneficiaries are paid on a monthly basis. These changes can also affect non-retirees who aren’t getting a Social Security benefit Let’s look at some of these changes.

  1. COLA. The most important figure in the October announcement from the Social Security Administration is the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Social Security’s COLA is measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The average monthly CPI-W reading from the third quarter of the current year (July through September) is compared to the average monthly CPI-W reading from the third quarter of the previous year. If the average figure has risen from the previous year, then beneficiaries receive a “raise” that’s commensurate with the percentage increase year over year, rounded to the nearest 0.1%.
  2. Withholding thresholds. Early claimants who haven’t hit their full retirement age but are currently (or expected to begin) taking benefits, will be subject to the retirement earnings test. This test allows early filers to earn up to a certain amount of money, before the SSA is allowed to withhold a portion, or all, of their benefit. For those who won’t reach their full retirement age in 2019, $1 in benefits can be withheld for every $2 in earnings above $17,640 ($1,470 a month). For those who’ll reach their full retirement age this year but have yet to do so, are allowed to earn $46,920 before the SSA begins withholding $1 in benefits for every $3 in earnings above the limit. Note that these withheld benefits aren’t lost forever, because you get them back in the form of a higher monthly payout when you reach your full retirement age.
  3. Maximum monthly payout. If you’re currently claiming a retired worker benefit and have made a good deal of money on an annual basis over your working career, there’s a chance that you’ll be able to net more in monthly payouts in 2020. There’s a cap on the maximum monthly payout at full retirement age. In 2019, no individual at their full retirement age can take home more than $2,861 per month, even if they made millions of dollars each year throughout their working career.
  4. Disability income thresholds. Even though 7 of 10 program recipients are retired workers, about 10 million people each month also get a check from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Approximately 8½ million are disabled workers, and the rest are spouses or children of these disabled workers. If the average CPI-W reading does increase on a year-over-year basis from the previous year (which appears likely), these SSDI income thresholds for the disabled and legally blind should go up a little in 2020.
  5. A warning to the wealthy. Lastly, Social Security’s changes for 2020 won’t just impact those receiving a benefit. Wealthy workers can also anticipate paying more into the program, provided that inflation rises on a year-over-year basis, as measured by the CPI-W.

Reference: Motley Fool (July 28, 2019) “5 Social Security Changes in 2020 That Could Affect Your Take-Home Income”

How Will Baby Boomers Handle “Long-Term Caregiving?

Think Advisor’s article, “Long-Term Caregiving Realities Hit Home for Boomers” says that study participants responded that they’d be willing to do these things to provide care for a loved one:

  • Cut spending: 66%
  • Travel less frequently: 41%
  • Move to a new home: 27%
  • Work less: 27%
  • Stop working: 19%

The study also found that boomers are becoming more aware of the likelihood they’ll require retirement care, and are willing to discuss the issue. This group believed that an adult would start to need physical care or assistance at age 70 or older.

About 45% of study participants thought they’d need long-term care at some point. That number is an increase from 36% in 2013. A total of 66% of them reported that they’d had detailed conversations about how they wanted to receive long-term care. Slightly more than half said they’d had detailed conversations about how to pay for care.

Even so, about 30% of boomers in the study who were caregivers said they still had to use some retirement savings to pay for health care expenses, compared with 19% of those without caregiving responsibilities.

The U.S. Census Bureau says that older Americans are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history by 2035. This raises the question of who’ll care for the aging population.

It was no surprise that the study found that women were likelier than men to have caregiving experience. 62% of current or former caregivers among study participants were women and 38% were men. A total of 68% of those with caregiving experience said they knew about long-term care insurance, compared with 59% without such experience.

Experienced caregivers were also more likely than inexperienced boomers to have made preparations for their death. This includes communicating funeral preferences (49% vs. 41%), identifying where they wanted to be buried or cremated (51% vs. 37%) and maintaining an up-to-date estate plan (45% vs. 38%).

Reference: Think Advisor (August 8, 2019) “Long-Term Caregiving Realities Hit Home for Boomers”

 

Can You Protect Your Home If You Need Medicaid?

Anyone who owns a home, whether a magnificent mansion or a modest ranch, worries about the possibility of losing the home because of long-term care. How can they keep the home for their spouse or even for their family, if they need to apply to Medicaid for long-term nursing care costs?

The problem, reports The Mercury in a recent article “Protecting your house and Medicaid” is often the strategies that people come up with on their own. They usually don’t work.

The first thought of someone who is confronted with the need to qualify for Medicaid is to immediately transfer ownership of the family home to another person. The idea is to take the home out of their countable assets. But unless the person who receives the house is an adult child, that transfer only leads to problems.

Medicaid’s basic premise is that if you can afford to pay for your own care, you should. Transfer of a home, let’s say one with a value of $400,000, means that a $400,000 gift has been given to someone. There is a five-year lookback period. Any assets given away or transferred in that five-year period means that you had the asset under your control. Medicaid will not pay for your care in that case.

There are some exceptions to the gifting rules, but this is not something to be navigated without the help of an experienced elder law estate planning attorney. Here are the exceptions:

Your spouse. It’s understood that your spouse needs a place to live, and a transfer of the home to your spouse does not result in penalties under Medicaid rules. This usually means transfer from title as joint tenants with rights of survivorship or tenants by the entireties to the healthier wife or husband. It is also understood that a transfer to your spouse at home is not a disqualifying transfer. This is a common practice and part of Medicaid planning.

A disabled child. A parent may transfer a house to their disabled child on the theory that it is needed for self-support. It is not necessary for a child to lose a home, because a parent will be on Medicaid. This is a common mistake, and completely avoidable. Talk with an elder law attorney to learn more.

If a child is a caretaker. An adult child who moves in with the parents for a period of at least two years to care for them so they could stay at home and avoid going to a nursing home, or if the child has lived with their parents for longer than that and they need this care at home, under federal law the home can be transferred to the child without penalty and the parent can go to a nursing home and receive care under Medicaid. This is another very common mistake that causes adult children to be left without a home.

For a person who is single or a widow or widower who will never move home after moving into a Medicaid certified nursing home, the house may be sold, and planning can be done with the proceeds of the sale. Paying bills to maintain a vacant home for no reason and having the government take the home as a creditor through the estate recovery program does not make sense. An elder lawyer estate planning attorney can help navigate this complex and often overwhelming process.

Reference: The Mercury (July 31, 2019) “Protecting your house and Medicaid”

Can a Trust Be Amended?

A son has contacted an elder law estate planning attorney now that mom is in a nursing home and he’s unsure about many of the planning issues, as reported by the Daily Republic. The article, “Amending trust easier if parents can make informed decision,” describes the family’s situation.

There is one point to consider from the start. If the son been involved in the planning from the start, in a family meeting with the attorney and discussions with his parents, he might have less uncertainty about the plan and the details.

As for the details: the parents are in their 90s, with some savings, a few annuities, a CD and a checking account. They also have five acres of land, which has their home and a duplex on it and 12 additional acres, with a rental property on it. Everything they own has been placed in a family trust. The son wants to be able to pay her bills and was told that he needs to have a power of attorney and to be named trustee to their trust.

He reports that his parents are good with this idea, but he has a number of concerns. If they are sued, will he be personally liable? Would the power of attorney give him the ability to handle their finances and the real estate in the trust?

If his parents have a revocable or living trust, there are provisions that allow one or more persons to become the successor trustees, in the event that the parent becomes incapacitated or dies.

What happens when they die, as they each leave each other their share of the assets? The son would become the trustee, when the last parent passes.

Usually the power of attorney is created when the trust is created, so that someone has the ability to take control of finances for the person. See if the trust has any of these provisions—the son may already be legally positioned to act on his parents’ behalf. The trust should also show whether the successor trustee would be empowered to sell the real estate.

Trusts can be drafted in any way the client wants it written, and the successor trustee receives only the powers that are given in the document.

As for the liability, the trustee is not liable to a buyer during the sale of a property. There are exceptions, so he would need to speak with an estate planning attorney to help with the sale.

More specifically, assuming the trust does not name the son as a successor trustee and also does not give the son power of attorney, the bigger question is are the parents mentally competent to make important decisions about these documents?

Given the age of these parents, an attorney will be concerned, rightfully so, about their competency and if they can freely make an informed decision, or if the son might be exercising improper influence on them to turn over their assets to him.

There are a few different steps that can be taken. One is for the son, if he believes that his parents are mentally competent, to make an appointment for them with an estate planning attorney, without the son being present in the meeting, in order to determine their capacity and wishes. If the attorney is not sure about the influence of the son, he or she may want to refer the parents for a second opinion with another attorney.

If the parents are found not competent, then the son may need to become their conservator, which requires a court proceeding.

Planning in advance and discussing these issues are best done with an experienced estate planning attorney, long before the issues become more complicated and expensive to deal with.

Reference: Daily Republic (Aug. 10, 2019) “Amending trust easier if parents can make informed decision”

Preparing for the Legal and Medical Aspects of End-of-Life

Planning for the end-of-life transition is something most people still avoid as a difficult topic. It’s true: for many people this topic is just too sad and scary to talk about, says Flagstaff Business News in the article “Easing the End-of-Life Transition with Advance Care Planning.”

Image result for end of life

However, planning for one’s death is a kindness to loved ones, family members, friends or even neighbors when others are left to make decisions about medical care, when an individual can’t do it for themselves.

In the estate planning field, this is called advance care planning. It involves learning about the decisions that often need to be made, considering the options and decisions ahead of time, and memorializing those decisions with the correct and enforceable legal documents. This gives a person the ability to think about what they want in the way of treatment or care, and what they don’t want.

It makes things much easier for the survivors, who otherwise have to guess what was on their loved one’s mind or what they would have wanted.

Here are the medical decisions that most frequently need to be made:

CPR, or Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation. This is to get the heart to start beating again, when it has stopped and can range from the use of hands, a defibrillator or chemical means.

Ventilator or Assisted Breathing. This is the use of a machine, connected to a breathing tube that is inserted through the mouth or lungs and down the throat. It is not comfortable, and the patient cannot speak with the tube in their throat.

Artificial Nutrition. This is the delivery of nutrition through an IV (intravenous) or a feeding tube.

Comfort Care. Doing anything to make an individual comfortable at the end of their life. It can include everything from medication to emotional and spiritual counseling. The goal is to provide a person with a dignified end of life, while relieving as much suffering as possible.

Once decisions have been made about these medical treatments, it’s time to get them down on paper.

You’ll need a Living Will. This is a written document expressing your wishes for end-of-life care. If you cannot speak on your own behalf, this is the document doctors will use to guide your care.

Durable Power of Attorney. This is a legal document used to name another person to make health care decisions on your behalf.

In addition, you should have your estate planning attorney prepare a Last Will and Testament, so your property is distributed according to your wishes. An estate planning attorney can help make sure all the details are addressed.

These are not fun topics but thinking about what you would like to have occur and documenting your wishes provides direction for your loved ones, who would otherwise be guessing at what you would have wanted.

Reference: Flagstaff Business News (Aug. 2, 2019) “Easing the End-of-Life Transition with Advance Care Planning”

Why an Attorney Should Help with a Medicaid Application

Image result for medicaid application

Elder law attorneys can be very helpful when planning for Medicaid coverage, and they can save money in the long run, ensuring that you (or a loved one) get the best care. Instead of waiting to see how wrong the process can get, says The Middletown Press, it’s best to “Use a lawyer for Medicaid planning” right from the start. Here’s why.

Conflict of interests. When a nursing home refers a family to people for preparing the Medicaid application, very often the person has dual loyalties: to the nursing home who refers them the work, and to the family who will pay them a fee for help with applying for benefits. Whose interests comes first?

Everyone wants the Medicaid application to be successful, but let’s be realistic. It’s in the nursing home’s best interest that the resident pays privately for as long as possible, before going on Medicaid. It’s in the resident or family member’s best interest to protect the family’s assets for care for the resident’s spouse or family.

An attorney has a duty of loyalty only to her client. She also has an ethical and professional responsibility to put her client’s needs ahead of her own.

Saving money is possible. Nursing homes in some areas cost as much as $15,000 a month. While every market and every law practice is different, it would be unusual for legal fees to cost more than a month in the facility. With an experienced attorney’s help, you might save more than her fee in long-term care and probate cost. Most attorneys will consult with new clients at little or no cost to determine what they need and what they want to achieve before paying a larger fee.

The benefit of experience. It’s all well and good to read through pages of online information, but nothing beats the years of experience that an attorney who practices in this area can bring to the table. Any professional in any field develops knowledge of the ins and outs of an area and applying for Medicaid is no different. Without experience, it’s hard to know how it all works.

Peace of mind from a reliable, reputable source. Today we hear a lot about “FOMO,” or fear of missing out. Consulting with an experienced attorney about a Medicaid application will help you avoid years of wondering, if there was more you could have done to help yourself or your loved one.

There are multiple opportunities for nursing home residents to preserve assets for themselves and spouses, children and grandchildren, particularly when a family member has special needs. However, here’s a key fact: if you wait for the last minute, there will be far less options than if you begin planning long before there’s a need to apply for Medicaid.

Reference: The Middletown Press (July 29, 2019) “Use a lawyer for Medicaid planning”

How to Plan for Long-Term Care Costs

The odds are that most of us will need long-term care. At least 52% of those over age 65 will need some type of long-term care at some point in our lives, according to a study conducted by AARP. As most of us are living longer, we’ll probably need that care for a longer period of time, as reported in the article “It’s best to plan for long-term care” from the Times Herald-Record.

Here’s the problem: ignore this issue, and it won’t go away. This is a fairly common response for people 55 and older. The size of the problem makes it a bit overwhelming, and the cost to tackle it seems unsolvable. However, not addressing it becomes even more expensive. How can we possibly pay for long-term care insurance?

Here’s a simple example: a 64-year-old woman who broke her ankle in three places. She was healthy and mobile. However, a badly broken ankle required extensive rehabilitation and she was not able to stay in her home. She has been living at a rehabilitation center and the costs are mounting. What could she have done?

There are two basic ways (with a number of variations) to pay for long-term care.

The first and most obvious: purchase a long-term care insurance policy. Only 2.7 million Americans own these policies. They are wise to protect themselves and their families.

Most families put off buying this kind of insurance, because it’s expensive at any age and stage. The average cost is about $2,170, according to the Kiplinger Retirement Report, for about $328,000 worth of insurance. That rate varies, and it should be noted that if you have a chronic condition, you may not be able to purchase a policy at all.

If a local nursing home costs $216,000 per year and you have $328,000 of coverage, you’ll run out of coverage. The average nursing home stay is about two years. As boomers age, the cost of long-term care insurance is rising, while benefits are becoming skimpier, says Kiplinger.

There are some alternatives: a hybrid life insurance plan that includes long-term care coverage.  However, those can be more expensive than regular long-term care insurance. Try about $8,000 a year for a 55-year-old, about $13,000 for a 65-year-old.

Another choice: a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust. You’ll need to work with an estate planning attorney to create and fund this trust long before you actually need it. Your assets must be placed in the trust five years before an application to Medicaid, which will then pay for your care. You don’t have to live in poverty to do this. If the care is for one person, the applicant is permitted to keep about $15,450 of assets. The spouse may also keep a home worth up to $878,000 and assets up to about $120,000. In New York State, you can keep the principle of retirement funds like an IRA or 401(k), as long as you are taking the required distribution withdrawals.

However, what if you have money to pay or need long-term care before you put assets in trust? If you live in New York, Florida and Connecticut, you have what is called “spousal refusal.” The spouse of the person in long-term care can choose not to pay for their cost of care. This can get complicated, and Medicaid will try to get funds for the care. However, an estate planning elder law attorney can negotiate the amount of payment, which may leave the bulk of your estate intact.

These are complicated matters that become very costly, often at a time when you are least able to deal with yet another issue. Speak with an estate planning attorney before you need the care and learn how they can help you protect your spouse and your assets.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (July 22, 2019) “It’s best to plan for long-term care”

Advance Planning Key for Alzheimer’s Patients

A retired physician and his wife have allowed a local television station to report their family’s journey with Alzheimer’s over the course of the last four years. The series continues with WCCO CBS Minnesota’s article “’All Lined Up Before You Need It’: Alzheimer’s Association Shares Steps for Estate Planning,” with four steps to take, if you notice that a family member is having memory lapses or trouble with simple tasks.

The Quinn family—Dr. Paul Quinn and his wife Peg—had some tough conversations years ago, when Paul’s memory was better, and when he was able to be completely honest with his wife about his wishes and what the couple would need to do moving forward.

Peg Quinn said that getting everything lined up long before it’s needed, is very important.

If there’s any sign of cognitive decline, there are legal and financial steps that must be pursued. Start with addressing the family budget and projected medical costs for long term care. If possible, gather all family members together for a planning session.

If they live in different parts of the state, or of the country, ask the family members to travel for a weekend family meeting. This is the kind of planning that is better when everyone is physically present.

Start by naming a power of attorney. It needs to be someone who is aware of the situation and will be able to make decisions on your behalf. An estate planning attorney can assist with making this decision.

Next, establish an advance directive with a focus on medical decisions. This may be the toughest part, since it is impossible to know how long someone will live with Alzheimer’s. The average patient lives four to eight years, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The cost of care can add up fast—as much as $5,000 to $7,000 a month in some cases.

That’s why the next step—selecting an elder law estate planning attorney is so important. Planning for long-term care, qualifying for Medicaid and other benefits, is a complex challenge.

Dr. Quinn expressed his wishes to stay in his home as long as possible. However, his wife admits that he can’t stay focused on any projects for very long. The familiarity of their home makes life much easier for both of them, so they agreed early on to have in-home care, if it’s ever needed.

An estate planning attorney will help the family, by drafting estate planning documents and creating a plan as early as possible. A last will and testament must be created and executed before the person is legally incompetent. The same goes for a power of attorney and any health care power of attorney documents. Medicaid planning should be done as soon as possible, since there is a five-year look back period concerning transferring any assets.

Reference: WCCO CBS Minnesota (July 23, 2019) “’All Lined Up Before You Need It’ : Alzheimer’s Association Shares Steps for Estate Planning”

BEST OF OMAHA!

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