Estate Planning Blog Articles

Estate & Business Planning Law Firm Serving the Providence & Cranston, RI Areas

What Is Elder Law?

WAGM’s recent article entitled “A Closer Look at Elder Law“ takes a look at what goes into estate planning and elder law.

Wills and estate planning may not be the most exciting things to talk about. However, in this day and age, they can be one of the most vital tools to ensure your wishes are carried out after you’re gone.

People often don’t know what they should do, or what direction they should take.

The earlier you get going and consider your senior years, the better off you’re going to be. For many, it seems to be around 55 when it comes to starting to think about long term care issues.

However, you can start your homework long before that.

Elder law attorneys focus their practice on issues that concern older people. However, it’s not exclusively for older people, since these lawyers counsel other family members of the elderly about their concerns.

A big concern for many families is how do I get started and how much planning do I have to do ahead of time?

If you’re talking about an estate plan, what’s stored just in your head is usually enough preparation to get the ball rolling and speak with an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney.

They can create an estate plan that may consists of a basic will, a financial power of attorney, a medical power of attorney and a living will.

For long term care planning, people will frequently wait too long to start their preparations, and they’re faced with a crisis. That can entail finding care for a loved one immediately, either at home or in a facility, such as an assisted living home or nursing home. Waiting until a crisis also makes it harder to find specific information about financial holdings.

Some people also have concerns about the estate or death taxes with which their families may be saddled with after they pass away. For the most part, that’s not an issue because the federal estate tax only applies if your estate is worth more than $12.06 million in 2022. However, you should know that a number of states have their own estate tax. This includes Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, plus Washington, D.C.

Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania have only an inheritance tax, which is a tax on what you receive as the beneficiary of an estate. Maryland has both.

Therefore, the first thing to do is to recognize that we have two stages. The first is where we may need care during life, and the second is to distribute our assets after death. Make certain that you have both in place.

Reference: WAGM (Dec. 8, 2021) “A Closer Look at Elder Law“

How Do I Hire a Caregiver from an Agency?

Part One of AARP’s recent article entitled “How to Hire a Caregiver” explains that when you have a list of promising agencies, you should schedule a consultation.

It doesn’t matter if your family member is eligible for Medicare, Medicare’s Home Health Compare can be a terrific tool for finding and researching home health agencies in your area.

It provides detailed information on what services they provide and how patients rate them.

Working with an agency has its pros and cons. The pluses include the following:

  • Background checks. Caregivers must pass a background check.
  • Experienced caregivers. Agencies are likely to have a number of caregivers who cared for other seniors with the illness or condition affecting your loved one.
  • Backup care. If the primary aide is sick or doesn’t work out, an agency typically can quickly find a replacement.
  • Liability protection in the event that a caregiver is injured while at the home.
  • No paperwork. The agency takes a fee, pays the aide and does the payroll and taxes.

Here are some of the corresponding minuses of working with an agency:

  • Greater expense. You’ll pay more for an agency-provided caregiver.
  • Little choice. The agency chooses the worker, and he or she may not fit well with you or your family member.
  • Negotiation is limited, and individuals are generally more flexible about duties, hours and overtime than agencies.
  • There are agencies that don’t permit a part-time schedule.

In addition, you can contact an experienced elder law attorney and ask for recommendations.

Reference: AARP (Sep. 27, 2021) “How to Hire a Caregiver”

Can I Restructure Assets to Qualify for Medicaid?

Some people believe that Medicaid is only for poor and low-income seniors. However, with proper and thoughtful estate planning and the help of an attorney who specializes in Medicaid planning, all but the very wealthiest people can often qualify for program benefits.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “How to Restructure Your Assets to Qualify for Medicaid says that unlike Medicare, Medicaid isn’t a federally run program. Operating within broad federal guidelines, each state determines its own Medicaid eligibility criteria, eligible coverage groups, services covered, administrative and operating procedures and payment levels.

The Medicaid program covers long-term nursing home care costs and many home health care costs, which are not covered by Medicare. If your income exceeds your state’s Medicaid eligibility threshold, there are two commonly used trusts that can be used to divert excess income to maintain your program eligibility.

Qualified Income Trusts (QITs): Also known as a “Miller trust,” this is an irrevocable trust into which your income is placed and then controlled by a trustee. The restrictions are tight on what the income placed in the trust can be used for (e.g., both a personal and if applicable a spousal “needs allowance,” as well as any medical care costs, including the cost of private health insurance premiums). However, due to the fact that the funds are legally owned by the trust (not you individually), they no longer count against your Medicaid income eligibility.

Pooled Income Trusts: Like a QIT, these are irrevocable trusts into which your “surplus income” can be placed to maintain Medicaid eligibility. To take advantage of this type of trust, you must qualify as disabled. Your income is pooled together with the income of others and managed by a non-profit charitable organization that acts as trustee and makes monthly disbursements to pay expenses on behalf of the individuals for whom the trust was made. Any funds remaining in the trust at your death are used to help other disabled individuals in the trust.

These income trusts are designed to create a legal pathway to Medicaid eligibility for those with too much income to qualify for assistance, but not enough wealth to pay for the rising cost of much-needed care. Like income limitations, the Medicaid “asset test” is complicated and varies from state to state. Generally, your home’s value (up to a maximum amount) is exempt, provided you still live there or intend to return. Otherwise, most states require you to spend down other assets to around $2,000/person ($4,000/married couple) to qualify.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 7, 2021) “How to Restructure Your Assets to Qualify for Medicaid”

Can I Claim Grandfather’s Unclaimed Insurance Policy?

What if you recently discovered some old life insurance accounts being held by the state for your grandfather, who passed away in 1977.

It looks like the funds were never disbursed because the address was spelled wrong. As a result, the insurance accounts were considered unclaimed.

None of his children—including your mom—is alive today, and there are a number of adult grandchildren besides you.

How do you get your hands on this money? How is it disbursed?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “I found two old life insurance policies. How can we collect?” says that insurance claims can be made at any time, even years after the death of the policy holder.

The first step is to make contact with the life insurance company that issued the policy.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a website to help people locate insurance policies.

Even if the policy proceeds reverted to the state, you can still claim it through the Unclaimed Property Administration.

The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, which is a network of the National Association of State Treasurers, says that about one in 10 people have unclaimed cash or property waiting for them.

Unclaimed or “abandoned” property is defined as property or accounts within financial institutions or companies with no activity generated (or contact with the owner) as to the property for one year or a longer period.

After a designated period of time—known as “the dormancy period”— with no activity or contact, the property becomes “unclaimed” and—by law—must be turned over to the state.

There are billions of dollars in unclaimed property that’s held by state governments and treasuries across the country.

As far as who would get your grandfather’s insurance policy proceeds, the distribution of the life insurance proceeds are governed by the contract of the life insurance policy.

Reference: nj.com (Nov. 18, 2021) “I found two old life insurance policies. How can we collect?”

What’s the Price Increase on Medicare Next Year?

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “Traditional Medicare Premiums Will Soar in 2022” says that the rising costs include the:

  • 2022 Medicare Part B standard premium: $170.10 per month, an increase of $21.60 from $148.50 in 2021. That’s compared with an increase of $3.90 per month one year earlier.
  • 2022 Medicare Part B deductible: $233 per year, an increase of $30 from $203 in 2021. That’s compared with an increase of $5 one year prior.
  • 2022 Medicare Part A inpatient hospital deductible: $1,556, an increase of $72 from $1,484 in 2021. That’s compared with an increase of $76 one year prior.

What this means is that Medicare costs will go up 2022 and will effectively reduce the 5.9% cost-of-living adjustment (or “COLA”) that increases retirees’ monthly Social Security benefit payments in the new year. For the average retiree, the 2022 COLA is about an extra $92 a month. These Social Security COLAs averaged 2.2% between 2000 and 2020 and annual increases in the Part B premium averaged 5.9% during the same period.

Here what Medicare Part A covers:

  • Inpatient hospital services
  • Skilled nursing facility services; and
  • Some home health care services.

Nearly all (roughly 99%) of Medicare beneficiaries don’t pay a premium for their Part A coverage due to how long they worked and had Medicare taxes withheld from their paychecks. Medicare Part B covers the following types of care:

  • Physician services
  • Outpatient hospital services
  • Certain home health services
  • Durable medical equipment; and
  • Certain other medical and health services not covered by Part A.

Part B premiums are based on income. Those with higher incomes pay higher Part B premiums — which will be anywhere from $238.10 to $578.30 for 2022, depending on income and federal tax-filing status.

Reference: Money Talks News (Nov. 15, 2021) “Traditional Medicare Premiums Will Soar in 2022”

What are Earnings Limits for Disability Retirees?

If you are 60 or older, there’s no restriction on the amount of income you can earn while receiving disability retirement.

However, if you’re under age 60, you can earn income from work while also receiving disability retirement benefits. Note that your disability annuity will cease, if the United States Office of Personnel Management determines that you’re able to earn an income that’s near to what your earnings would be if you’d continued working.

Fed Week’s recent article entitled “The Limits on Earnings for Disability Retirees” says that the retirement law has set an earnings limit of 80% for you to still keep getting your disability retirement. You reach the 80% earnings limit (or are “restored to earning capacity”) if, in any calendar year, your income from wages and self-employment is at least 80% of the current rate of basic pay for the position from which you retired.

All income from wages and self-employment that you actually get plus deferred income that you actually earned in the calendar year is considered “earnings.” Any money received before your retirement isn’t considered “earnings.”

The government says that income from wages includes any salary received while working for someone else (including overtime, vacation pay, etc.). Income from self-employment is any net profit you made from working or managing your own business—whether at home or elsewhere. Net profit is the amount that’s left after deducting business expenses and before the deduction of any personal expenses or exemptions as allowed by the IRS. Deferred income is any income you earned but didn’t receive in the calendar year for which you’re claiming income below the 80% earnings limitation.

If you’re reemployed in federal service, and your salary is reduced by the gross amount of your annuity, the gross amount of your salary before the reduction is considered “earnings” during the calendar year.

The following aren’t considered earnings:

  • Gifts
  • Pensions and annuities
  • Social Security benefits
  • Insurance proceeds
  • Unemployment compensation
  • Rents and royalties not involving or resulting from personal services
  • Interest and dividends not resulting from your own trade or business
  • Money earned prior to retirement
  • Inheritances
  • Capital gains
  • Prizes and awards
  • Fellowships and scholarships; and
  • Net business losses.

If you’re under age 60 and reemployed in a position equivalent to the position you held at retirement, the Office of Personnel Management will find you recovered from your disability and will cut off your annuity payments.

Reference: Fed Week (Nov. 4, 2021) “The Limits on Earnings for Disability Retirees”

Alexa, How Can You Help Seniors

Amazon’s new programs run through Alexa Smart Properties, which allows organizations to control a centralized Alexa system, according to MSN’s recent article “Amazon announces Alexa program for hospitals and senior care.”

“Early on in the pandemic, hospitals and senior living communities reached out to us and asked us to help them set up Alexa and voice in their communities,” Liron Torres, global leader for Alexa Smart Properties, said in an interview with The Verge.

“Hospitals wanted ways to interact with patients without using protective equipment, and senior living communities wanted to connect residents with family members and staff,” Torres says.

The program allows senior living facilities to employ Amazon Echo devices to send announcements or other messages to residents’ rooms. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many facilities relied on printed out sheets of paper slipped under resident doors to communicate changes in protocols, like around meals or quarantines. However, the Alexa program now lets them send messages immediately into patient rooms.

“Staff can be more available for other tasks,” Torres says.

Senior facility residents can also place calls through Alexa to family members or friends, without having to rely on a staff member. Approved contacts would also be able to call in through Alexa. The facility could enable calling for a list of contacts approved by the resident and family members when they arrive.

Two networks of senior living communities, Atria (which is nationwide) and Eskaton (based in California), are adding Alexa to some facilities, Amazon announced.

In hospitals, the Alexa Smart Properties program allows nurses to speak with patients through the calling and intercom-type drop-in features without having to enter patient rooms. Patients could ask questions, or nurses could see how a patient is feeling with this feature.

“This enables hospitals to increase productivity and be able to save on medical supplies,” Torres says.

Hospitals can also send information and announcements to patients through Alexa.

Reference: MSN (Oct. 25, 2021) “Amazon announces Alexa program for hospitals and senior care”

What are Latest Trends in Senior Care Facility Design?

iAdvance Senior Care’s recent article entitled “The Newest Trends in Senior Care Facility Design” interviewed Christine Cook, NCARB, principal with the Dallas-based design boutique three. She explained that she’s seeing several new trends that are shaping the industry.

“Owners and operators are working to connect through lifestyle choices, in combination with a healthcare amenity, to reach the target pool of prospective residents. ‘Active aging’ and ‘purposeful lifestyles’ resonate favorably with both residents and their families. This shifts the perception away from residency as need-based or compelled to a feeling of joining the community by choice,” she remarked.

Other design trends include more tailored residential apartments and cottages. There is also an increased demand for amenities, both on-site and within walking distance.

“Also, it is foundational to ensure consistency of the design aesthetic and quality of materials across the continuum-of-care, from independent living to assisted living and memory care,” says Cook.

Cook also said that many existing communities are decreasing their skilled nursing offerings. They’re customizing assisted living and memory care environments, tailoring them to the residents’ needs. “Most new communities are not incorporating skilled nursing at all.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also prompted an increased focus on cleanliness and practical material selection. “Escalating cleaning protocols are demanding increased attention to the selection of finishes,” says Cook.

“Materials must be durable and resilient, otherwise replacing them when they wear out will have to be cost-effective — think modular cabinetry or tile flooring. We have also had to address plans for processional arrival sequences at entryways, modifying and limiting them to ensure there will be no security breaches with respect to disease migration.”

She’s also seen an uptick in requests for no-touch access controls for resident and staff-only areas. Cook notes that there’s also a market preference for larger balconies and full-height windows to allow for more natural daylight. Designs that reinforce healthy connections to nature, like balconies doubling as outdoor great rooms, can prompt residents to be more inspired and engaged.

However, Cook says that owner-operators frequently describe two common challenges: Keeping occupancy rates high and attracting and retaining high-quality, mission-focused staff.

Cook thinks that several trends will continue to define the senior care market in the future. These include increased demand for pocket-park communities, which usually consist of 10 to 12 cottages that are organized around or near an activity center. These communities are often developed in association with a larger senior care community or health provider.

Reference: iAdvance Senior Care (Oct. 12, 2021) “The Newest Trends in Senior Care Facility Design”

How Do I Hire an Elder Law Attorney?

Elder law attorneys are lawyers who assist the elderly and their family members, and caregivers with legal questions and planning related to aging.

These attorneys frequently are called upon to assist with tax planning, disability planning, probate and the administration of an estate, nursing home placement, as well as a host of other legal issues, says Forbes’ recent article entitled “Hiring An Elder Law Attorney.”

In addition, there are some elder law attorneys who have the designation of Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA), a certification issued by the National Elder Law Foundation. A Certified Elder Law Attorney must meet licensing and other requirements, including specific experience in elder law matters and continuing education in elder law. However, note that an elder law attorney does not need to have the CELA certification to be an experienced elder law attorney.

There are many elder law attorneys who specialize in Medicaid planning to help protect a senior’s financial assets, if they suffer from dementia or another debilitating illness that may require long-term care. Elder law attorneys also prepare estate documents, such as a durable power of attorney for health and medical needs and a living will. As you age, the legal issues that you, your spouse, and/or your family caregivers must address can also change.

If you are a senior, then you should have durable powers of attorney for financial and health needs, in the event that you or your spouse becomes incapacitated. You might also need an elder law attorney to help you transfer assets if you or your spouse move into a nursing home to avoid spending your life savings on long-term care.

Healthy people over 65 are in the best spot to do more than having estate planning documents prepared. That’s because they have the opportunity to develop a holistic strategy beyond the legal documents. This can give assurances that the family members and professionals they’ve assembled understand the principle of supported decision-making and how it will be implemented.

For example, an elder law attorney may focus on finding the least restrictive residential environment and making other health care and financial choices. An elder law attorney can also protect seniors with diminished capacity, who are being victimized by personal and financial exploitation.

An initial consultation with an elder law attorney will help determine the types of legal services they can offer, and the fees associated with these services.

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 4, 2021) “Hiring an Elder Law Attorney”

How Can I Conduct a Family Meeting about Family Wealth Planning?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “It’s Never Too Late for a Family Meeting – Here’s How to Do Them Well” emphasizes that no matter the amount of wealth that a family has, wealth education is crucial to overall financial education, preparing for the future and to becoming a good steward of an inheritance.

Family meetings are a great way of bringing members of a family together with a goal of facilitating communication and education. This allows for sharing family stories, communicating values, setting goals to help ensure transparency and helping members across generations understand their roles around stewardship and wealth.

Here are some ideas on how to have an effective family meeting:

Prepare. The host of the meeting should spend time with each participating family member to help them understand the reason for the meeting and learn more about their expectations. There should be a desire and commitment from the participants to invest time and effort to make family meetings a success.

Plan. Create a clear agenda that defines the purpose and goals of each meeting. Share this agenda with participants before the meeting. Select a neutral location that makes everyone comfortable and encourages participation.

Have time for learning. Include an educational component in the agenda, such as an introduction to investing, estate planning, budgeting and saving, or philanthropy.

Have a “parking lot.” Note any topics raised that might need to be addressed in a future meeting.

Use a facilitator. Perhaps have a trusted adviser facilitate the meeting. This can help with managing the agenda, offering a different perspective, calming emotions and making certain that everyone is heard and understood.

Follow up. Include some to-do’s and schedule the next meeting to set expectations about continuing to bring the family together.

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 1, 2021) “It’s Never Too Late for a Family Meeting – Here’s How to Do Them Well”