Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Do I Need All Insurance after 65?

Seniors should be cautious about canceling their insurance policies. Consider your future insurability and your individual circumstances and life goals. There’s no one answer that fits everyone.

The primary purpose of life insurance is to replace lost income. Retirees may still want to keep their coverage because it can be an important tool in wealth transfer to the next generation.

US News’ recent article entitled “The Only Insurance Policies You Need After Retirement” advises that these guidelines can help determine which policies are essential and which could be a waste of money. Let’s look at how to decide which policies you need and which you can skip after age 65.

Must-Have Policies for Seniors. These two types of insurance are necessary for seniors.

  • Medical Insurance. The increasing cost of health care that comes with advanced age is a big reason to buy medical insurance. The Affordable Care Act requires everyone to maintain coverage. Most seniors 65+ are eligible for Medicare, and those still working may have benefits through their job. Note that Medicare doesn’t cover all medical costs, so look at buying a supplemental plan, such as Medigap and Part D coverage, to help pay for services not fully covered by Original Medicare. A Medicare Advantage Plan offered by private insurers is another way to fill in coverage gaps.
  • Homeowners or Renters Insurance. Seniors with valuable jewelry or other items may need to add a rider to their policy to fully insure these possessions. Mortgage lenders require homeowners to maintain coverage, but once the loan is paid off, it’s not required. It may be tempting to save money by canceling the policy, but that could be a costly mistake. That’s because a big loss would have to be replaced with savings.

Some Smart Options. There are other types of insurance that could be helpful to seniors.

  • Travel Insurance. Those who plan to travel extensively may want to buy travel insurance. Find a policy that includes features, such as emergency medical and medical evacuation services along with trip delay or cancellation insurance.
  • Auto Insurance. Auto insurance is required in almost every state. Any senior who is still driving and owns a vehicle should insure it properly.
  • Umbrella Insurance. This insurance provides additional liability coverage above and beyond what’s included in homeowner and car insurance. Your volunteer activities could put you at risk for a liability claim and warrant added insurance coverage.
  • An immediate annuity can help guard against outliving savings by providing a guaranteed source of income. Annuities can be purchased for a lump sum amount and provide monthly payments that are based on a person’s age and the purchase price.
  • Long-Term Care Insurance. Medicare won’t pay for ongoing custodial care in a nursing home or assisted living facility, and Medicaid is only available after a person has depleted almost all their assets.

One Type of Insurance to Cancel. Seniors who aren’t working don’t have a need for disability insurance.

Reference: US News (Feb. 27, 2020) “The Only Insurance Policies You Need After Retirement”

Can I Avoid the Economic Dangers of Caregiving?

AARP’s recent article entitled “5 Steps to Avoid Economic Pitfalls of Caregiving” reports that 20% of family caregivers have to take unpaid time off from work due to their caregiving responsibilities.

The average lifetime cost to caregivers in lost wages and reduced pension and Social Security benefits is $304,000 — that is $388,000 in today’s dollars. This does not count the more than $7,200 that most caregivers spend out of pocket each year, on average, on housing, health care and other needs for loved ones in their care, according to the AARP report.

Step 1: Calculate the gap. The average cost of a full-time home health aide is nearly $62,000 a year, and a semiprivate room in a nursing home runs about $95,000. Ask your parents about the size of their nest egg, how fast they are spending it, whether they have long-term care insurance and how much equity they have in their home. Compare your parents’ assets against their projected expenses to determine your gap.

Step 2: Fill the gap without going broke. Try to find free resources: Use the National Council on Aging’s BenefitsCheckUp tool to find federal, state and private benefit programs that apply to your situation. Then create a budget to determine what you can contribute, physically and in dollars, to closing the gap. In addition, ask your siblings if they can pitch in.

Step 3: If a gap remains, consider Medicaid. This program can cover long-term care. However, your parent or parents may need to spend down assets to qualify. Note that if just only one parent is in a nursing home, the other can generally keep half of the assets, up to a total of $137,400 (not including their house). However, the rules differ by state. As a result, this can get complicated. Speak with an elder-law attorney for help.

Step 4: No matter what the gap, try to get paid. If your parents have enough resources, you may discuss having them pay you for caregiving. However, you should speak with an attorney first about drawing up a contract. This should include issues like the number of hours a day you will spend on providing care and whether doing so will require you to quit your job. The caregiving agreement is written carefully, so that it does not violate Medicaid regulations about spending down assets.

Step 5: Protect your own earning ability. If you are mid-career, it is very difficult to leave a job for ​family responsibilities like caregiving and then go back into the workforce at the same salary. The Society for Human Resource Management says that it costs six to nine months’ salary to replace an employee, so many employers now see it is less expensive to make an accommodation.

Reference: AARP (Feb. 24, 2022) “5 Steps to Avoid Economic Pitfalls of Caregiving”

Must I Sell Parent’s Home if They Move to a Nursing Facility?

If a parent is transferring to a nursing home, you may ask if her home must be sold.

It is common in a parent’s later years to have the parent and an adult child on the deed, with a line of credit on the house. As a result, there’s very little equity.

Seniors Matter’s recent article entitled “If my mom moves to a nursing home, does her home need to be sold?” says that if your mother has assets in her name, but not enough resources to pay for an extended nursing home stay, this can add another level of complexity.

If your mother has long-term care insurance or a life insurance policy with a nursing home rider, these can help cover the costs.

However, if your mom will rely on state aid, through Medicaid, she will need to qualify for coverage based on her income and assets.

Medicaid income and asset limits are low—and vary by state. Homes are usually excluded from the asset limits for qualification purposes. That is because most states’ Medicaid programs will not count a nursing home resident’s home as an asset when calculating an applicant’s eligibility for Medicaid, provided the resident intends to return home

However, a home may come into play later on because states eventually attempt to recover their costs of providing care. If a parent stays a year-and-a-half in a nursing home—the typical stay for women— when her home is sold, the state will make a claim for a share of the home’s sales proceeds.

Many seniors use an irrevocable trust to avoid this “asset recovery.”

Trusts can be expensive to create and require the help of an experienced elder law attorney. As a result, in some cases, this may not be an option. If there’s not enough equity left after the sale, some states also pursue other assets, such as bank accounts, to satisfy their nursing home expense claims.

An adult child selling the home right before the parent goes into a nursing home would also not avoid the state trying to recover its costs. This because Medicaid has a look-back period for asset transfers occurring within five years.

There are some exceptions. For example, if an adult child lived with their parent in the house as her caregiver prior to her being placed in a nursing home. However, there are other requirements.

Talk to elder law attorney on the best way to go, based on state law and other specific factors.

Reference: Seniors Matter (Feb. 25, 2022) “If my mom moves to a nursing home, does her home need to be sold?”

What are States Doing to Help Pay Long-Term Care Costs in Future?

Starting this year, workers in Washington state must pay 58 cents of every $100 they earn into the Washington Cares Fund. That money will help pay their long-term care costs in the future. Those with qualifying long-term care insurance can be eligible for an exemption.

Next Avenue’s recent article entitled “How Medicaid and Medicare Fit Into Planning for Long-Term Care” says that starting in 2025, those Washington residents who’ve paid in for at least three out of the prior six years, or for 10 years in total, will be able to withdraw up to $36,500 to pay for their costs of care. It is an effort by the state to fill in a major gap in our long-term care system. California has also enacted a law to bring down the eligibility threshold for Medicaid to totally eliminate it by the end of 2023. New York state is considering similar legislation.

Any senior may need assistance as they age, whether due to dementia, illness, loss of eyesight, or simple frailty. The level of assistance and how long it will last can vary greatly. However, few retirees have enough saved to pay for their care for very long out-of-pocket. According to research from Boston College, more than half of today’s 65-year-olds will need a medium to high level of assistance for more than a year. Almost two thirds of that care will be provided by family members – mostly children and spouses – for no cost, but more than a third will be provided by paid caregivers.

According to the Congressional Research Service, 43% of long-term care services are paid for by the Medicaid program, 20% by Medicare, 15% out-of-pocket and 9% by private insurance. The rest comes from a combination of private and public sources that includes charitable payments and VA benefits.

Medicare Coverage. This is the federal health insurance program for people beginning at age 65. Note that Medicare only covers so-called “skilled” needs following a hospitalization. It pays for up to 100 days of care in a skilled nursing facility following a hospitalization and longer term for home health services.However, the home health coverage is not comprehensive.

Medicaid Coverage. The financial rules for Medicaid coverage are complicated and state-specific. However, generally people must spend down to about $2,000 in savings and investments. Planning to use Medicaid to pay for long-term care is also complicated by the fact that while its coverage of nursing home care is comprehensive, its payment for home care and assisted living facility fees is only partial and differs both from state to state. Even if you may be able to leverage Medicaid to help pay home and assisted living care, you must also rely on your own savings.

Out-of-Pocket Costs. The low percentage of long-term care costs paid for out-of-pocket is surprising, in light of the vast growth of both assisted living and private home care agencies over the last several decades. However, this demonstrates the fact that most older adults have limited resources to pay for anything beyond their basic living expenses. When the need for care arises, they must rely on family members or Medicaid.

Insurance. A large component of insurance coverage of long-term care consists of Medicare supplemental insurance payments for skilled nursing facility copayments. While Medicare will pay for up to 100 days of skilled care following a hospitalization, it actually pays entirely for only the first 20 days. For days 21 through 100, there is a copayment which for most is paid by their MediGap insurance. As such, long-term care insurance pays for a very small share of long-term care costs. For those who have coverage, it can be terrific. However, due to its high cost, those who have it often also have the resources to pay for their care out-of-pocket, at least for some period of time.

Veterans Benefits. More vets are taking advantage of a Veterans Administration benefit known as Aid & Assistance that will provide veterans who qualify financially with up to $2,431 a month (in 2022) to help pay for their care.

Reference: Next Avenue (Feb. 2, 2022) `“How Medicaid and Medicare Fit Into Planning for Long-Term Care”

What’s Elder Law and Do I Need It?

Yahoo News  says in its recent article entitled “What Is Elder Law?” that the growing number of elderly in the U.S. has created a need for lawyers trained to serve clients with the distinct needs of seniors.

The National Elder Law Foundation defines elder law as “the legal practice of counseling and representing older persons and persons with special needs, their representatives about the legal aspects of health and long-term care planning, public benefits, surrogate decision-making, legal capacity, the conservation, disposition and administration of estates and the implementation of their decisions concerning such matters, giving due consideration to the applicable tax consequences of the action, or the need for more sophisticated tax expertise.”

The goal of elder law is to ensure that the elderly client’s wishes are honored. It also seeks to protect an elderly client from abuse, neglect and any illegal or unethical violation of their plans and preferences.

Baby boomers, the largest generation in history, have entered retirement age in recent years.  Roughly 17% of the country is now over the age of 65. The Census estimates that about one out of every five Americans will be elderly by 2040.

Today’s asset management concerns are much sophisticated and consequential than those of the past. Medical care has not only managed to extend life and physical ability but has itself also grown more sophisticated. Let’s look at some of the most common elder law topics:

Estate Planning. This is an area of law that governs how to manage your assets after death. The term “estate” refers to all of your assets and debts, once you have passed. When a person dies, their estate is everything they own and owe. The estate’s debts are then paid from its assets and anything remaining is distributed among your heirs.

Another part of estate planning in elder law concerns powers of attorney. This may arise as a voluntary form of conservatorship. This power can be limited, such as assigning your accountant the authority to file your taxes on your behalf. It can also be very broad, such as assigning a family member the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf while you are unconscious. A power of attorney can also allow a trusted agent to purchase and sell property, sign contracts and other tasks on your behalf.

Disability and Conservatorship. As you grow older, your body or mind may fail. It is a condition known as incapacitation and legally defined as when an individual is either physically unable to express their wishes (such as being unconscious) or mentally unable to understand the nature and quality of their actions. If this happens, you need someone to help you with activities of daily living. Declaring someone mentally unfit, or mentally incapacitated, is a complicated legal and medical issue. If a physician and the court agree that a person cannot take care of themselves, a third party is placed in charge of their affairs. This is known as a conservatorship or guardianship. In most cases, the conservator will have broad authority over the adult’s financial, medical and personal life.

Government programs. Everyone over 65 will, most likely, interact with Medicare. This program provides no- or low-cost healthcare. Social Security is the retirement benefits program. For seniors, understanding how these programs work is critical.

Healthcare. As we get older, health care is an increasingly important part of our financial and personal life. Elder law can entail helping a senior understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to healthcare, such as long-term care planning and transitioning to a long-term care facility.

Reference: Yahoo News (Jan. 26, 2020) “What Is Elder Law?”

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”

How Does Medicaid Count Assets?

For seniors and their families, figuring out how Medicaid works usually happens when an emergency occurs, and things have to be done in a hurry. This is when expensive mistakes happen. Understanding how Medicaid counts assets, which determines eligibility, is better done in advance, says the article “It’s important to understand how Medicaid counts your resources” from The News-Enterprise.

Medicaid is available to people with limited income and assets and is used most commonly to pay for long-term care in nursing homes. This is different from Medicare, which pays for some rehabilitation services, but not for long-term care.

Eligibility is based on income and assets. If you are unable to pay for care in full, you will need to pay nearly all of your income towards care and only then will Medicaid cover the rest. Assets are counted to determine whether you have non-income sources to pay for care.

Married people are treated differently than individuals. A married couple’s assets are counted in total, regardless of whether the couple owns assets jointly or individually. The assets are then split, with each spouse considered to own half of the assets for counting purposes only. Married couples have some additional asset exemptions as well.

Not all resources are considered countable. Prepaid funeral expenses, a car used to transport the person in the care family and qualified retirement accounts may be exempt from Medicaid’s countable asset limits.

For married couples, their residence for a “Community Spouse”—the spouse still living at home, and a large sum of liquid assets, are also excluded. Many non-countable assets are very specific to the individual situation or current events. For example, stimulus checks were exempt assets, but only for a limited time.

Medicaid sets a “snapshot” date to determine asset balances because some assets change daily. For unmarried individuals, all asset protections and spend-downs must happen prior to submitting the application to Medicaid. A detailed explanation must be included, especially if any assets were transferred within five years of the application.

For married couples, a Resource Assessment Request should be submitted to Medicaid before any action is taken. This document details all resources Medicaid will count and specifies exactly how much of these resources must be “spent down” by the institutionalized spouse for eligibility.

In many cases, assets are preserved by turning the countable asset into a non-countable income stream to the spouse remaining at home.

Medicaid application is a complicated process and should be started as soon as it becomes clear that a person will need to enter a facility. Understanding options early in the process makes it more likely that property and assets can be preserved, especially for the spouse who remains at home.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Oct. 5, 2021) “It’s important to understand how Medicaid counts your resources”

Can a Retired Police Officer Qualify for Medicaid?

An 84-year-old retired police officer recently took a fall in his home and injured his spinal cord. He retired from the police force more than 20 years ago and received a lump sum.

Currently, he gets more than $2,000 per month from his pension and Social Security.

How does this retired police officer spend down to qualify for Medicaid, since he is now a paraplegic?

State programs provide health care services in the community and in long-term care facilities. The most common, Medicaid, provides health coverage to millions of Americans, including eligible elderly adults and people with disabilities.

Medicaid is administered by states, according to federal requirements. The program is funded jointly by states and the federal government.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “How can this retired police officer qualify for Medicaid?” advises that long-term services and supports are available to those who are determined to be clinically and financially eligible.

A person is clinically eligible, if he or she needs assistance with three or more activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing, eating, personal hygiene and walking.

Financial eligibility means that the Medicaid applicant has fewer than $2,000 in countable assets and a gross monthly income of less than $2,382 per month in 2021.

The applicant’s principal place of residence and a vehicle generally do not count as assets in the calculation.

If an applicant’s gross monthly income exceeds $2,382 per month, he or she can create and fund a Qualified Income Trust with the excess income that is over the limit.

The options for spending down assets to qualify for Medicaid are based to a larger extent on the applicant’s current and future living needs and the amount that has to be spent down.

Consult with an elder law attorney or Medicaid planning lawyer to determine the best way to spend down, in light of an applicant’s specific situation.

Reference: nj.com (July 19, 2021) “How can this retired police officer qualify for Medicaid?”

Do I Need Long-Term Care Insurance?

Women face some unique challenges as they get older. The Population Reference Bureau, a Washington based think tank, says women live about seven years longer than men. This living longer means planning for a longer retirement. While that may sound nice, a longer retirement increases the chances of needing long-term care.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “A Woman’s Guide to Long-Term Care” explains that living longer also increases the chances of going it alone and outliving your spouse. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, in 2018 women made up nearly three-quarters (74%) of solo households age 80 and over. Thus, women should consider how to plan for long-term care.

Ability to pay. Long-term care is costly. For example, the average private room at a long-term care facility is more than $13,000/month in Connecticut and about $11,000/month in Naples, Florida. There are some ways to keep the cost down, such as paying for care at home. Home health care is about $5,000/month in Naples, Florida. Multiply these numbers by 1.44 years, which is the average duration of care for women. These numbers can get big fast.

Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare may cover some long-term care expenses, but only for the first 100 days. Medicare does not pay for custodial care (at home long-term care). Medicaid pays for long-term care, but you have to qualify financially. Spending down an estate to qualify for Medicaid is one way to pay for long-term care but ask an experienced Medicaid Attorney about how to do this.

Make Some Retirement Projections. First, consider an ideal scenario where perhaps both spouses live long happy lives, and no long-term care is needed. Then, ask yourself “what-if” questions, such as What if my husband passes early and how does that affect retirement? What if a single woman needs long-term care for dementia?

Planning for Long-Term Care. If a female client has a modest degree of retirement success, she may want to decrease current expenses to save more for the future. Moreover, she may want to look into long-term care insurance.

Waiting to Take Social Security. Women can also consider waiting to claim Social Security until age 70. If women live longer, the extra benefits accrued by waiting can help with long-term care. Women with a higher-earning husband may want to encourage the higher-earning spouse to delay until age 70, if that makes sense. When the higher-earning spouse dies, the surviving spouse can step into the higher benefit. The average break-even age is generally around age 77-83 for Social Security. If an individual can live longer than 83, the more dollars and sense it makes to delay claiming benefits until age 70.

Estate Planning. Having the right estate documents is a must. Both women and men should have a power of attorney (POA). This legal document gives a trusted person the authority to write checks and send money to pay for long-term care.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 11, 2021) “A Woman’s Guide to Long-Term Care”

Which State Offers Dental Benefits to Low-Income Adults on Medicaid?

Virginia’s new policy making low-income adults on Medicaid eligible for dental benefits took effect on July 1, 2021.

8 News’ recent article entitled “Virginia is offering dental benefits to all adults on Medicaid for the first time” reports that the Virginia General Assembly first allocated funding for the expansion in the 2020 session. However, the change was delayed due to the pandemic. Since it was authorized in the two-year state budget, state legislators will have to allocate more funding in the future to maintain this level of coverage.

Dr. Tegwyn Brickhouse, chair of VCU’s Department of Dental Public Health and Policy, explained oral health is inseparable from overall health.

“It can help control chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We also know there’s a link between oral health and pre-term birth,” Brickhouse said.

Brickhouse remarked that children and pregnant women covered by Medicaid were already eligible for dental benefits in Virginia. However, the move is making those services accessible to more than 750,000 other adults. In addition to routine cleanings and preventative care, the program will pay for x-rays, examinations, fillings, dentures, root canals, gum-related treatments, oral surgeries and more.

In the past, Brickhouse said many adults on Medicaid could only access dental coverage for emergency extractions. Without benefits, Brickhouse said many turned to emergency rooms as a last resort to find relief from the pain of other oral health conditions.

“Dentistry is not typically provided in emergency room settings, so you end up maybe getting an opioid but never really getting the tooth fixed. So, providing dental care will provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings from emergency room visits,” Brickhouse said.

Christina Nuckolos, communications director for the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, says that roughly 75% of the nearly 2,000 dentists involved in the state’s Medicaid program have said that they’ll serve adult members.

“Governor Ralph Northam wrote a letter to the state’s dentists urging them to participate or to increase the number of Medicaid members they serve. The Virginia Dental Association distributed the Governor’s letter to their 3,900 members, and we are pleased that it has been well-received,” Nuckolos said.

Because Medicaid pays much less than private insurers for the same services, proponents are asking state lawmakers to up reimbursement rates to incentivize more participation. That hasn’t been done in more than 10 years, Brickhouse said.

Reference: 8 News (July 6, 2021) “Virginia is offering dental benefits to all adults on Medicaid for the first time”