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”

 

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”

Why is an Advance Directive so Important with Dementia?

The Roanoke Times advises in the recent article “What to do in absence of advance directive” to talk to an experienced elder care attorney to coordinate the necessary legal issues, when dementia may be at issue with a parent or other loved one. Next, ask your physician for a geriatric evaluation consultation for your loved one with a board-certified geriatrician and a referral to a social worker to assist in navigating the medical system.

It’s wise for anyone older than 55 to have advance directives in place, should they become incapacitated, so a trusted agent can fulfill the patient’s wishes in a dignified manner. Think ahead and plan ahead.

As a family’s planning starts, the issue of competence must be defined. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t necessarily indicate incompetence or a lack of capacity. At this point, a patient still has the right to make a decision—despite family members disagreeing with it. A patient’s competency should be evaluated after a number of poor choices or an especially serious choice that puts a patient or others at risk.

An evaluation will determine the patient’s factual understanding of concepts, decision-making and cogent expression of choices, the possible consequences of their choices and reasoning of the decision’s pros and cons. Healthcare professionals make the final determination, and these results are provided to the court.

If a patient passes the evaluation, she is deemed to have the mental capacity to make choices on her own. If she cannot demonstrate competency, an attorney can petition the court for a competency hearing, after which a trustee may be appointed to oversee her affairs.

The time to address these types of issues is before the patient becomes incapacitated. The family should clearly define and explore the topics of living wills, health care proxies, estate planning and powers of attorney now with an experienced elder law attorney.

Taking these proactive actions can be one of the greatest gifts a person can bestow upon herself and her loved ones. It can give a family peace of mind. If you put an advance directive in place, it can provide that gift when it’s needed the most.

Reference: Roanoke Times (June 17, 2019) “What to do in absence of advance directive”

 

What’s Not Covered by Medicare?

Medicare Part A and Part B—also called “Original Medicare” or “Traditional Medicare”—cover a large percentage of medical expenses when you turn 65. Part A is hospital insurance that helps pay for inpatient hospital stays, stays in skilled nursing facilities, surgery, hospice care and specific home health care. Part B is medical insurance that helps to pay for doctor visits, outpatient care, some preventive services and some medical equipment and supplies. You can begin signing up for Medicare three months before the month you reach age 65.

Kiplinger’s article, “7 Things Medicare Doesn’t Cover,” takes a closer look at what isn’t covered by Medicare, plus some information about supplemental insurance policies and strategies that can help cover the additional costs, so you don’t end up with unanticipated medical bills in retirement.

Prescription Drugs. Medicare doesn’t give you any coverage for outpatient prescription drugs. However, to address this, you purchase a separate Part D prescription-drug policy that does. There are also Medicare Advantage plans that cover both medical and drug costs. Some retiree health-care policies also cover prescription drugs. You can re-enroll in Part D or Medicare Advantage coverage, when you enroll in Medicare or when you lose your other drug coverage.

Long-Term Care. Medicare gives you coverage for some skilled nursing services. However, it doesn’t include custodial care, like assistance with bathing, dressing and other daily activities. To address this, you can buy long-term-care insurance or a combination long-term-care and life insurance policy.

Deductibles and Co-Pays. Medicare Part A covers hospital stays, and Part B covers doctors’ services and outpatient care. However, you must pay the deductibles and co-payments. It is important to understand that over your lifetime, Medicare will only help pay for a total of 60 days beyond the 90-day limit, known as “lifetime reserve days.” After that, you’ll pay the full hospital cost.

Most Dental Care. Medicare doesn’t cover your routine dental visits, teeth cleanings, fillings, dentures or most tooth extractions. Some Medicare Advantage plans cover basic cleanings and x-rays, but they generally have an annual coverage cap of around $1,500. Another option is to buy a separate dental insurance policy or a dental discount plan. You can also build up money in a health savings account before enrolling in Medicare. You can use the money tax-free for medical, dental and other out-of-pocket costs at any age.

Routine Vision Care. Medicare generally doesn’t provide insurance coverage for routine eye exams or glasses. However, some Medicare Advantage plans have vision coverage. You may also be able to buy a separate supplemental policy that gives vision care alone or includes both dental and vision care.

Hearing Aids. Medicare doesn’t cover routine hearing exams or hearing aids, but some Medicare Advantage plans do cover hearing aids and fitting exams. There are also some discount programs that provide lower-cost hearing aids.

Medical Care Overseas. Medicare also doesn’t cover the medical care you get when you’re traveling outside of the U.S., except for very limited circumstances (e.g., on a cruise ship within six hours of a U.S. port). However, a Medigap plan C through G, M and N cover 80% of the cost of emergency care abroad, with a lifetime limit of $50,000. Some Medicare Advantage plans also will cover emergency care abroad.

Another option is to purchase a travel insurance policy that covers some medical expenses, while you’re outside of the U.S. This insurance may even cover emergency medical evacuation, which can otherwise cost tens of thousands of dollars to transport you aboard a medical plane or helicopter.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 23, 2019) “7 Things Medicare Doesn’t Cover”

Suggested Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Medicare, Medicaid, Nursing Home, Long-Term Care Planning, Retirement Planning, Elder Care

Long Term Care Decisions Cause Challenges for Families

One year at an assisted living facility in New Hampshire has a median cost of $56,000, and the median annual cost of a semi-private room at a nursing home is $124,000, reports Genworth, a national insurance company known for its annual “cost of care” survey.

Families are often surprised to learn that health insurance and Medicare will pay little, if any, of the costs of long-term care, reports New Hampshire Business Review in the article “The dilemma of long-term care.” Some may try caring for a loved one at home, but this is stressful and often becomes unmanageable. Assisted-living facilities can be wonderful alternatives, if the family can afford them. Long-term care insurance is considered one of the important financial protections as we age, but relatively few people have it.

A growing problem with Medicaid-paid care, is that it can be hard to find a facility that accepts it. Not to mention that the loved one’s assets have to be down to $2,500 (note: this number varies by state), which requires advance planning or becoming impoverished through the cost of care.

Most people have no idea how this part of healthcare works, and then when something occurs, the family is faced with a crisis.

The Department of Health and Human Services projects that as many as 70% of Americans age 65 and older will need long-term care during their lives, for roughly one to three years. Yet little more than a third of all Americans age 40 and older have set aside any money to pay for that care.

There are ways to pay for long-term care, but they require planning in advance. This is something people should start to look into, once they reach 50. The top reason to do the planning: to take the burden of care off of the shoulders of loved ones. From a strictly financial viewpoint, we should all start paying premiums on long-term care as soon as we become adults. However, not everyone does that.

Families pay for long-term care with a mixture of assets:

  • Personal savings provide the most flexibility. This is not an option for many, as one half of American households with workers 55 and older had no retirement savings.
  • Veterans disability benefits can be used for long-term care services, but the non-disability benefits available to veterans are more limited. They may cover in-home services and adult day care, but not rent at an assisted living facility.
  • If a loved one owns a home, they can take out a reverse mortgage and use the lump sum or monthly payout for long-term healthcare needs. The money is repaid, when the home is sold or passed on to an heir.
  • Medicare will pay for some long-term care, but only under very limited conditions. It may cover skilled nursing care in a facility but not the care for daily living activities, including toileting, dressing and others. Coverage is all expenses for the first 20 days in a facility and then there is a daily co-pay of about $170 for the next 80 days, when all coverage stops.
  • Medicaid is the source of last resort, but what many families eventually turn to.

Planning in advance for long-term care is the best option, and while premiums for long-term healthcare may seem expensive, having insurance is better than having no insurance. For many families, watching the costs consume a lifetime of savings is enough of a spur to planning for long-term care. Speak with an elder law attorney about to prepare for long-term care needs, as part of your estate plan.

Reference: New Hampshire Business Review (May 23, 2019) “The dilemma of long-term care”

 

What Does an Elder Law Attorney Really Do?

A knowledgeable elder law attorney will make certain that he represents the best interests of his senior client in a variety of situations that usually occur in an elderly person’s life.

An elder care attorney will also be very knowledgeable about several different areas of the law.

The Idaho Falls Spokesperson’s recent article, “What is an Elder Law Attorney and What Can They Do for You?” looks at some of the things an elder care attorney can do.

Elder care attorneys address long-term care issues, housing, quality of life, independence and autonomy—which are all critical issues concerning seniors.

Your elder law attorney knows that one of the main issues senior citizens face is sound estate planning. This may include planning for a minor or adult child with special needs, as well as probate proceedings, which is a process where a deceased person’s assets are collected and distributed to the heirs and creditors.

The probate process may also involve the Uniform Probate Code (UPC). The UPC is a set of inheritance rules written by national experts. A major responsibility of the probate process is to fully administer the entire estate, including appointing executors and ensuring that all assets are disbursed properly.

An experienced elder law attorney can also assist your family to make sure that your senior receives the best possible care arrangement, which may become more important as his or her medical needs increase.

An elder care law attorney also helps clients find the best nursing home to fully satisfy all their needs. Finally, they often will also work to safeguard assets to prevent spousal impoverishment, when one spouse must go to a nursing home.

A qualified elder care attorney can be a big asset to your family, as you journey through the elder care planning process. Working with an attorney to set up contingency plans can provide peace of mind and relief to you and your loved ones.

Reference: Idaho Falls Spokesperson (May 20, 2019) “What is an Elder Law Attorney and What Can They Do for You?”

 

Special Needs Families and Special Needs Trust

If nothing prepares a person for parenting, consider how much harder it is to be prepared to raise a child with special needs. Parents often sink in uncharted waters. It’s not just a matter of negotiating all of the day-to-day details, says Newsday in the article “Be ‘biggest advocate’: Parents plan future for adult children with special needs.” Special needs families need to plan for what will happen as the parents age, become ill or die.

As an adult child with disabilities ages, eventually there will be medical issues. If the parents are gone, who will be able to make medical decisions? Where they live, who will oversee their finances and who will be there for them to rely on in a parenting role? There are many questions and they all need answering.

For one family, raising their special needs daughter was a full-time challenge. Their daughter, now 24, has autism. The couple sought out others in their same situation, noting that often even their own family members could not relate to their daily experiences.

It takes a village for special needs families to do more than survive. That includes estate planning and elder law attorneys with deep experience in special needs planning, social workers, therapists and medical professionals. Here’s what needs to be top-of-mind:

Don’t wait to plan. Families often think they have time, but you never know when unexpected events occur. Have a plan in place for legal guardianship, finances and health care.

Work with experienced legal help. You want to work with an attorney who has a great deal of experience and knowledge in special needs law and estate planning. Someone who dabbles on the side of a real estate practice is not the right professional for the task.

Stay in control. When children turn 18, they are adults. Parents and guardians will need to go through Surrogate’s Court to become the child’s guardian. Unless that is done, the parents and guardians will have no legal rights about the child’s medical, financial or other affairs. A successor guardian also needs to be named, so that when the parents are no longer able to serve, someone is in place to care for the child.

Create a Special Needs Trust. A trusts attorney with experience in Special Needs planning will be able to work with the family to create and structure a Special Needs Trust (SNT). A disabled person usually cannot earn enough to support himself, or the caregiver who remains at home to care for them and care-related expenses. The SNT helps to meet current needs and plan for future needs. The trust is used to preserve eligibility for any means-tested state and federal benefits. It allows the individual to have a better quality of life, by providing for expenses that are not covered by their benefits.

It’s very important that no assets be left to the child in an inheritance. Any assets must be placed in the trust. A well-meaning relative could put their eligibility for aid in jeopardy.

Parents and guardians also need to name a trustee and a successor trustee. The person needs to be competent, good with money management, organized and focused on caring for the loved one. It cannot be an emotional decision.

Parents of special needs children are advised to create a Letter of Intent, a narrative that outlines their child’s likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, activities and friends they enjoy and other details that will help them to continue an enjoyable life, when their parents are gone.

Parent’s own estate planning must be done with an eye to maintaining the SNT and caring for their other children. This is a case when assets need to be distributed in a realistic and fair manner. If one sibling is the successor trustee, for example, they may need a larger portion of an estate to help care for their sibling.

Reference: Newsday (May 9, 2019) “Be ‘biggest advocate’: Parents plan future for adult children with special needs.”

 

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