Making a Fresh Start for 2020? Here’s Help

Some people like to start their New Year’s off with a clean slate, going through the past year’s files and tossing or shredding anything they don’t absolutely need. However, many don’t, in part because we’re not sure exactly what documents we need to keep, and which we can toss. This article from AARP Magazine provides the missing information so you can get started: “When to Keep, Shred or Scan Important Papers.”

Tax Returns. Unless you’re planning on running for office, the last three years of tax returns and supporting documents are enough. That’s the window the IRS has to audit taxpayers. But there are some exceptions: if you are self-employed or have a complex return, double that number to six years, which is how much time the IRS has to audit you, if it suspects something’s fishy.

Regardless of how you earn your income, visit MySocialSecurity.gov account before shredding to make sure that your income is being accurately recorded. Having your tax records in hand will make it easier to get any figures fixed.

As for documents regarding home ownership, keep records related until you sell the house. You can use home-improvement receipts to possibly reduce taxes at that time.

Banking and Investments. If you or your spouse might be applying for Medicaid to pay nursing home costs, you’ll need to have five years of financial records. That includes bank statements, credit card statements, and statements from brokerage or financial advisors. This is so the government can look for any asset transfers that might delay eligibility.

If that’s not the case, then you only need banking and financial statements for a year, except for those issued for income-related purposes to provide the IRS with a record of tax-related transactions. Your bank or credit card issuer may have online statements going back several years online. However, if not, download statements and save them in a password protected folder on your home computer.

Stocks and bonds purchases need to be kept for six years after filing the return reporting the sale of the security. Again, this is for the IRS.

If you have a stack of cancelled checks, shred them. Most every bank and credit union today have an electronic version of your checks.

Medical Records. These are the records you want to keep indefinitely, especially if you have had a serious illness or injury. The information may make a difference in how your physicians treat you in the future, so normal or not, hang on to the following documents: surgical reports, hospital discharge summaries and treatment plans for major illnesses. Put these in a password-protected folder in your computer or a secure cloud-based account, so they can be shared with future healthcare providers. You should also keep immunization and vaccination records. The goal is to have your own medical records and not to rely on your doctor’s office for these documents.

Maintain proof of payments to medical providers for six years, with the relevant tax return, in case the IRS questions a health care deduction.

Reference: AARP Magazine (August 5, 2019) “When to Keep, Shred or Scan Important Papers”

Holiday Gatherings Often Reveal Changes in Aging Family Members

A look in the refrigerator finds expired foods and an elderly relative is asking the same questions repeatedly. The same person who would never let you walk into the house with your shoes on now, is living in a mess. The children agree, Mom or Dad can’t live on their own anymore. It’s time to look into other options.

One of the biggest questions, according to the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News’ article is “How to pay for long-term care.”

The first question involves the types of facilities. There are many different options but the distinctions between them are often misunderstood. Assisted living facilities provide lodging, meals, assistance with eating, bathing, toileting, dressing, medication management and transportation. However, a skilled nursing facility adds more comprehensive health care services. There’s also the personal care home, which provides assisted-living type accommodations, but on a smaller scale.

The next question is how to pay for the residential care of an elderly family. This weighs heavily on the family. That elderly person is often the one who did the caregiving for so many years. The reversal of roles can also be emotionally difficult.

There are a few different ways people pay for care for an elderly family member.

Long-term care insurance, or LTC insurance. Few elderly people have the insurance to cover their residential facility stay, but some do. Ask if such a policy exists, or go through the piles of paperwork to see if there is such a policy. It will be worth the search.

Veteran’s benefits. If your loved one or their spouse served during certain times of war, is over 65 or is disabled and received an honorable discharge, he or she may be entitled to certain programs that pay for care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Private pay. If your loved one has financial accounts or other assets, they may need to pay the cost of their residential facility from these assets. If they don’t have assets, the family may wish to contribute to their care.

Another route is to apply for Medicaid. An elder law attorney in their state of residence will be able to help the individual and their family navigate the Medicaid application, explore if there are any options to preserving assets like the family home, and help with the necessary legal strategy and documents that need to be prepared.

Meet with an elder law estate planning attorney to learn what the steps are to help your elderly loved one enjoy their quality of life, as they move into this next phase of their life.

Reference: Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News (November 30, 2019) “How to pay for longterm care.”

What Should I Keep in Mind, When I Remarry?

Before you remarry, discuss any past financial issues with your fiancé, and plan for success, by considering some important ideas.

U.S. News & World Report’s recent article, “6 Financial Considerations for Remarriage,” lists six financial considerations and crucial steps to take before you remarry:

  1. Revise Your Budget. Whether this is your first, second, or third marriage, couples need to create a budget for daily spending, monthly expenses and big-ticket purchases. You should also talk about your household expenses and costs related to children from a prior marriage. If you have to pay alimony, let your new spouse know. It’s also a good time to talk about credit card debt, past investments you’ve made and retirement accounts. You may want to draft a prenuptial agreement.
  2. Inform your Fiancé of Any Financial Obligations, Including Child Support. Before getting married, review the laws to see how child support may be impacted by marriage to a new person. While it’s unlikely that you would lose your child support if you remarry, the family court may reduce the amount. If a person paying the child support is remarrying, they should talk to their partner prior to the marriage to make certain they understand the amount of the payments.
  3. Check Insurance and Benefits. A frequent mistake when remarrying, is not updating the beneficiaries of life insurance policies. You also may have to look at other updates to your coverage, like who will be on your health plan, and you may need to modify your homeowner’s insurance with a spouse and children in residence. Understand that if you get government benefits, like Medicaid or Social Security, you could forfeit your Medicaid eligibility when you remarry if your spouse’s income is too high to be eligible. You might also discover that your Social Security benefits from an ex-spouse will stop, after you remarry.

A second marriage may also increase a parent’s income for federal financial aid purposes for college. If a parent is the custodial parent for the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), their income now may include their new spouse’s income. It is important to discuss saving for college and tuition costs, as well as if either partner has children from a prior marriage, whether each spouse will save money for tuition costs.

  1. Estate Planning Is Critical. Check your estate planning before remarrying. That includes a will, medical powers of attorney, do not resuscitate orders, durable powers of attorney, designations of guardianship or consent to adoption and various trusts, including trusts for special needs children. If you have children from a prior relationship, hire a qualified estate planning attorney.
  2. Create an Inheritance Plan. If you have children from a prior relationship, you need to put the right estate planning documents in place to protect them from being disinherited. In some states, a last will and testament may be enough, but in others it may make sense to also have a revocable living trust.

The biggest mistake that couples commit when entering their second marriage, is thinking that their own children will inherit any of their estate, if they die first. Perhaps the adult children will inherit some of the estate, but you should speak to an estate attorney to create a customized strategic plan. In many instances, the living spouse will change the plan and leave everything to their children and nothing to yours.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (November 18, 2019) “6 Financial Considerations for Remarriage”

What is a Special Needs Trust?
Special needs text on a wooden cubes on a wooden background

What is a Special Needs Trust?

Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid are critical sources of support for those with disabilities, both in benefits and services.

To be eligible, a disabled person must satisfy restrictive income and resource limitations.

That’s why many families ask elder law and estate planning attorneys about the two types of special needs trusts.

Moberly Monitor’s recent article, “Things to know, things to do when considering a special needs trust,” explains that with planning and opening a special needs trust, family members can hold assets for the benefit of a family member, without risking critical benefits and services.

If properly thought out, families can continue to support their loved one with a disability long after they’ve passed away.

After meeting the needs of their disabled family member, the resources are kept for further distribution within the family. Distributions from a special needs trust can be made to help with living and health care needs.

To establish a special needs trust, meet with an attorney with experience in this area of law. They work with clients to set up individualized special needs trusts frequently.

Pooled trust organizations can provide another option, especially in serving lower to more moderate-income families, where assets may be less and yet still affect eligibility for vital governmental benefits and services.

Talk to an elder law attorney to discuss what public benefits are being received, how a special needs trust works and other tax and financial considerations. With your attorney’s counsel, you can make the best decision on whether a special needs trust is needed or if another option is better, based on your family’s circumstances.

Reference: Moberly Monitor (October 27, 2019) “Things to know, things to do when considering a special needs trust”

What Can You Tell Me About a Special Needs Trust?

A special needs trust is a specific type of trust fund that’s created to help a beneficiary with special needs but not jeopardize their eligibility for programs, like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Medicaid. KAKE’s recent article, “How a Special Needs Trust Works,” says that programs like SSDI and Medicaid can be vital supports for those dealing with disabilities or chronic illnesses.

These programs have income limits to ensure they’re serving those who need them the most. If you were to just give money to your beneficiary when you pass away, it could come in above this income limit.

A special needs trust works around this. That’s because the owner of the funds is technically the trust, not the beneficiary. You also name a trustee to be in charge of disbursing the funds in the trust. Therefore, while the beneficiary benefits from the trust, she doesn’t have control of its assets.

If you are creating a special needs trust for a beneficiary, you must do this before the beneficiary turns 65. And funds from the trust typically can’t be used to pay for food or shelter.

If a person could benefit from a special needs trust, but they themselves own the funds, you can create a first-party special needs trust in which you serve as both the beneficiary and the grantor. These can be complicated to draw up, and states have varying rules determining their validity. A first-party special needs trust has the money that belongs to its beneficiary.

With a third-party special needs trust, the trust holds funds that a beneficiary doesn’t directly own. These are generally used by grantors to allow the beneficiary to start getting money from the trust, even before their death. The funds never technically belong to the beneficiary, so they can’t be used for Medicaid payments. The trust can be used to save money for the beneficiary and future beneficiaries.

The third type of these trusts is the pooled special needs trust. Nonprofit organizations manage assets for a fee, and these organizations pool the funds of multiple trusts together and invest them. When it comes to payments, beneficiaries get an amount equal to their percentage of the pooled trust’s balance.

A special needs trust lets you write down what you wish your funds’ purpose to be, making it legally binding. Special needs trusts are irrevocable, so you can also protect your funds from creditors and lawsuits against the trust’s beneficiary. It lets you help your beneficiary deal with the expenses that come with illness or disability, without hampering their ability to get other assistance.

Reference: KAKE (September 30, 2019) “How a Special Needs Trust Works”

 

What Should I Know About Medicaid?

Medicaid is the federal program that gives healthcare benefits to those who cannot afford them. Many people who end up requiring long-term care can pay for it out of their own their own assets, at least initially.

However, because long-term care expenses are so astronomical, many people end up accessing Medicaid benefits, after their own assets have been depleted.

The Medicaid program can help with paying for home care, assisted living, and nursing home care, explains Insurance News Net’s recent article, “Medicaid planning.”

It would be great if people would plan to qualify for Medicaid before they become completely broke, which would preserve their children’s inheritance.

For those who are thinking of transferring all of their assets to their children to qualify for Medicaid, the government has already thought of that. If you gift any assets to your children, you must wait 60 months from the date you gave the gift before becoming Medicaid eligible. However, there are perfectly legal strategies that a senior can use to become eligible for Medicaid, while still keeping considerable assets.

That’s why you should talk to an elder law or Medicaid planning attorney. These practitioners specialize in helping people qualify for Medicaid benefits far in advance of their assets becoming depleted.

Assets may be freely transferred between spouses to help gain eligibility for a spouse that needs care.

There are also many assets that are exempt for purposes of gaining eligibility. This includes a primary residence, rental property, certain IRAs and most vehicles.

It’s also important to remember that a person can enter into contracts with family members to provide care in exchange for a fee, without a 60-month look back.

With the guidance and planning from qualified legal counsel, seniors who require long-term care can get free government healthcare, while preserving assets for their heirs.

Please contact an experienced Medicaid planning or elder law attorney for additional information.

Reference: Insurance News Net (September 29, 2019) “Medicaid planning”

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”

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”

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