Elder Law Articles

Should you buy an annuity doubler for long-term care?

“Annuity doublers” are being touted as a new alternative to long-term care insurance. But are they a good idea?

Long-term care plans have become much more expensive lately, pricing many older people out of the market. As an alternative, some companies are offering annuities that have a “nursing home doubler.” With this option, the amount of monthly annuity income you would normally receive is doubled during any period you’re in a nursing home, which will help pay for care.

The term “doubler” can be misleading. Some policies only pay 50% extra – although others pay triple. In most cases the extra income lasts for up to five years, or until the annuity’s cash value is exhausted. [Read more…]

How to protect against elder financial abuse

Seniors who are dependent on others due to illness, disability or cognitive impairments may be susceptible to financial abuse and fraud. The culprits may be outside predators, hired caregivers, or in some cases even relatives.

If you or a family member is increasingly dependent, there are some simple but important steps you can take to reduce the chance of abuse.

The most important step is to have a trusted family member or friend be involved in the finances – visiting often, reviewing statements, and generally exercising oversight. The best defense against financial exploitation is having someone else around who can notice large checks, unusual ATM withdrawals, missing valuables, and so on. [Read more…]

Many older estate plans have an unnecessary trust

An estate planning technique that was very popular some years ago is still present in many people’s wills, especially if they haven’t reviewed their estate plan in a while. But this technique – called a “bypass trust” – might now actually increase taxes rather than decrease them for many people, as a result of changes in the law in the last few years. If you haven’t reviewed your estate plan recently, now is a good time.

Not long ago, the federal estate tax affected even relatively small estates, and it was a big problem. One solution was to provide that, when the first spouse died, many assets would go into a trust. The trust would take care of the surviving spouse, and when he or she died, the assets would go to the children. The assets in the trust would escape, or “bypass,” the estate tax.

Now, however, the federal estate tax only affects estates worth well over $5 million (and, if handled properly, couples worth more than $10 million). So in the vast majority of cases, these bypass trusts are no longer necessary. [Read more…]

Residents of care facilities can still vote – here’s how

Voting is the foundation of any democratic system, but it isn’t easy if you’re in a long-term care facility. Residents of nursing, assisted living and other facilities face a number of challenges in voting, from registering to actually casting a ballot.

When you move into a nursing home or assisted living residence, your address changes, which means you’ll probably need to re-register to vote based on your new address. You can register in person, by mail, or, in many cases, online.

You can often register in person at your local elections office or your local motor vehicle department office. For more information on where to register, go to: http://tinyurl.com/lw-where-to-register. [Read more…]

Avoid this new Medicare ‘trap’

When Judy Hanttula came home from the hospital after surgery last November, her doctor’s office called with bad news: Records showed that even though Judy had signed up for Original Medicare, she was nevertheless enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan.

Original Medicare wouldn’t pay for the surgery because she now had an Advantage plan, and the Advantage plan wouldn’t pay for it because her doctor and hospital weren’t in its network. So Judy was on the hook for more than $16,500.

After more than five hours of making phone calls, Judy discovered what had happened. Because she had individual coverage through Blue Cross Blue Shield before she became eligible for Medicare, the company had automatically signed her up for its own Medicare Advantage plan. Blue Cross had apparently notified Judy of this in a letter. But because Judy had already signed up for Original Medicare, and because she was being deluged with letters from health plans at the time, she ignored it, not realizing it was important. [Read more…]

How Medicaid’s look-back period works

Medicaid’s look-back period can be confusing, but it’s important because it can have a very significant effect on your ability to pay for long-term care.

Unlike Medicare, Medicaid is a system that’s available only to people who have very few assets. As a result, the government is concerned that people will “game the system” by giving away all their assets to family members and then applying for Medicaid shortly afterward. That’s obviously not fair to the taxpayers who support the system.

So Medicaid imposes a penalty on people who transfer assets without receiving fair value in return. [Read more…]

Guardianship abuse leads to calls for reform

The growing problem of adult guardianship abuse is giving rise to calls for reform, as vulnerable elderly people caught up in this system sometimes end up being harmed and exploited by the very process that’s supposed to protect them.

A guardian is someone appointed by a court to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person, known as a “ward.” The process usually starts when a family member or social worker notifies the court that someone can no longer take care of himself or herself. If the court decides that the person is incapacitated, it often appoints a family member as guardian. However, if the family can’t agree on a guardian, or there’s no family member to serve, the court may appoint a public guardian. Public guardians are supposed to be neutral individuals hired to act in the ward’s best interest. [Read more…]

Has Medicare dropped coverage of your drugs?

Medicare prescription drug plans can change which drugs they cover, possibly leaving you without coverage for a drug you need. Or you might switch plans, and find that your new plan doesn’t cover your medication at all. In these circumstances, it’s good to know that Medicare drug plans are required to offer you a 30-day transition supply of the drug you’re taking.

All Medicare Part D plans must offer these transition refills, including Medicare Advantage plans with prescription drug coverage. Plans must provide a 30-day supply of an ongoing medication (unless a lesser amount is prescribed) within the first 90 days of plan membership or within the first 90 days of the new contract year. [Read more…]

What you need to know about required distributions from your IRA or 401(k)

The oldest of America’s 75 million baby boomers are turning 70 this year. That means the IRS will soon be requiring them to start cashing out their tax-deferred retirement savings accounts. How you handle these withdrawals can have a profound effect on your own retirement and on what you leave to your heirs.

As a general rule, if you don’t need the money in these accounts to live on, it can be wise to keep as much as possible in them, rather than withdrawing it. This can reduce your income taxes, plus there can be significant tax advantages in leaving money to your heirs in a tax-sheltered account rather than giving it to them outright.

Here’s a look at the rules: Once you turn age 70½, the IRS requires you to take “required minimum distributions,” or RMDs, from your IRA and 401(k) accounts. You’ll also have to pay income tax on these withdrawals. [Read more…]

Be careful if different people handle your finances and health care

It’s not uncommon for seniors to name one person in their power of attorney document to handle their finances if they become incapacitated, and to name someone else to make decisions for them in their health care proxy.

For instance, a senior might live with one child or be very close to him or her, and trust that child to make medical decisions – because the child is familiar with the senior’s day-to-day health issues. On the other hand, that child might be bad with finances, or another child might simply have a much more helpful financial background or a greater willingness to handle bills, taxes and investments.

That’s fine – as long as the two get along and agree on everything. A problem can arise, though, if the two ever disagree. That’s because a child making health care decisions might not be able to put them into effect unless the other child agrees to pay for them. [Read more…]

Social Security can be seized to pay debts – sometimes

If you don’t pay your debts, creditors can generally obtain a court order to garnish your wages. But what if your income comes from Social Security? In that case, the answer is a bit more complicated.

For most types of debts (including credit cards, medical bills, and personal loans), Social Security benefits cannot legally be garnished to pay them off. But how this actually works in practice can be tricky.

Suppose you receive $1,500 a month in Social Security, and have it directly deposited in your bank account. If a creditor tries to freeze your account, the bank must allow you access to any Social Security funds deposited within the last two months. So the bank would have to allow you access to $3,000 in your account. [Read more…]

Long-term care premiums dip for men, rise for women

On average, long-term care premiums are decreasing for men and increasing for women, according to a study by the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, an industry trade group.

For instance, a healthy 55-year-old man can expect to pay an average of $1,015 annually for a new policy offering $164,000 in long-term care benefits, which is down 4.2 percent from last year, according to the group.

But for a woman in the same situation, the average premium would be $1,490 – an increase of 7.2 percent over last year.   [Read more…]

Medicare now covers conversations about end-of-life care

Did you know that 40 percent of people over age 65 haven’t written down their wishes regarding life support and other end-of-life treatment? One reason for this may be that people haven’t had a conversation with their doctor about the options that are available.

In the past, Medicare didn’t cover these doctor-patient conversations – except during the patient’s initial “Welcome to Medicare” visit, a time when the topic might not seem very relevant.

Under new regulations, however, Medicare will cover these conversations at any time. [Read more…]

What you need to know if you’re an agent under a power of attorney

If someone has named you as an agent under a durable power of attorney, you’ll be allowed to handle that person’s finances. (The person who signs the power of attorney is known as the “principal”; you’ll be known as the agent or “attorney-in-fact.”) Here are answers to some questions you might have:

What are my duties?

You’re responsible for handling the principal’s financial affairs. Generally, you can step into his or her shoes and take whatever investment and spending measures the principal would ordinarily take. This may include opening bank accounts, withdrawing funds, trading stocks, paying bills, and cashing checks. Read the power of attorney document carefully; it might give you other powers (such as making gifts), or place certain limits on your powers. Note that any financial steps you take must be consistent with your role as a “fiduciary.” [Read more…]

Retiring abroad? Check your long-term care policy

If you’re thinking of retiring abroad, and you want to purchase (or have already purchased) long-term care insurance, be sure to read the fine print on your policy.

Not all policies cover care in other countries, and even if they do, the benefits are often reduced. For example, one large insurer pays only 50 percent of the nursing home benefit if your care is received outside the U.S. [Read more…]

Long-term care insurance deductions increased for 2016

The amount you can deduct on your taxes as a result of buying long-term care insurance has been increased by the IRS for 2016.

If you itemize your deductions, you can generally claim a deduction if your premiums, together with your other unreimbursed medical expenses, amount to more than 10% of your adjusted gross income (or 7.5% if you’re 65 or older). [Read more…]

Veterans face new limits on long-term care help

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a pension benefit to low-income veterans (and their spouses) who are in a nursing home or who need help at home with everyday tasks such as dressing or bathing. The program is called “Aid and Attendance.”

Unfortunately for many veterans, the government recently proposed new regulations that will tighten the qualification rules and impose a look-back period and transfer penalties similar to those under Medicaid. As a result of these changes, anyone who might be eligible for Aid and Attendance should probably talk to a lawyer about how to proceed.

In the past, veterans or surviving spouses applying for Aid and Attendance had to meet certain asset limits. Different offices used different limits, but $80,000 worth of assets was a common ceiling above which benefits could be denied. However, a veteran or spouse could give away assets to family members in order to qualify, without penalty. [Read more…]

New technique to qualify for Medicaid more quickly

A recent court decision may make it easier for seniors to use short-term, immediate annuities to qualify for Medicaid more quickly.

In general, people who go to a nursing home must spend down their resources before becoming eligible for Medicaid. If you transfer your assets rather than spending them down (such as by making gifts to family members), that triggers a penalty period during which you’re ineligible for Medicaid benefits, even if you would otherwise qualify.

If one spouse goes into a nursing home, the other spouse is generally allowed to keep a certain amount of assets to live on. However, if a couple owns more than this “asset allowance,” they must spend down any additional assets before applying. [Read more…]

Major changes to Social Security may require taking action now

Two Social Security strategies that many married couples have been using to maximize their benefits are being eliminated, as a result of the federal budget deal that President Obama signed into law in November.

In the past, these strategies could be worth tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime for some couples. The fact that they are being phased out means that many seniors should take action now, before the changes take effect, to reduce the impact. Other seniors may need to reconsider their long-term retirement plans.

The strategies that are being eliminated are: [Read more…]

Your IRA can affect your Medicaid eligibility

When you’re planning for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care, it’s important to take any IRAs you own into account.

Medicaid applicants can retain only a small amount of assets ($2,000 in most states) in order to be eligible for benefits. Certain assets may be exempt from this rule. Whether your IRA is exempt often depends on whether it is in “payout status.”

You can put your IRA into payout status starting at age 59½ if you elect to take regular, periodic distributions based on life expectancy tables. At age 70½, you’re required to put your IRA into payout status. [Read more…]

Medicaid helps children who live with aging parents

In most states, if you give your house to your children (or to someone else) and then apply for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care, you can be disqualified for a long period of time. That’s because you’re supposed to spend down your assets on your own care before applying for Medicaid, not give them away.

But there is an important exception that allows you to give your home to your children in certain circumstances. [Read more…]

New law warns seniors of Medicare nursing home loophole

A new federal law will help many seniors with a costly Medicare loophole that often results in their not being covered for a stay in a nursing home. It won’t make the stay covered, but it will at least put seniors on notice if a stay isn’t covered, so they can plan accordingly and won’t be hit with a nasty surprise.

Here’s the problem: Medicare covers nursing home stays for the first 20 days, so long as the patient was first admitted to a hospital as an inpatient for at least three days. But a lot of people who spend three days in a hospital later discover that they were never actually “admitted.” Rather, they were merely kept in the hospital “under observation.” As a result, the nursing home stay afterward isn’t covered. [Read more…]

Make sure your loved ones can get your medical info

If you’re in the hospital, you probably want certain family members and trusted friends to be able to get information about your condition or prognosis. But to make sure this happens, you may need to plan ahead.

A federal law called HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is designed to protect your health care privacy, and says that medical personnel can’t disclose your health care information to unauthorized people. Only a small number of people are authorized under HIPAA … so if you want other people to know about your condition, you have to authorize them in advance. [Read more…]

What to do if you have an Obamacare plan and become eligible for Medicare

If you or someone you know has a marketplace health care plan under the Affordable Care Act (an “Obamacare” plan), and you’ve reached the age of 65 or are close to it, it’s important to look carefully at your options. Not making the right decision could be costly.

In the vast majority of cases, the smart approach is to terminate the Obamacare plan and sign up for Medicare.

But many people are unaware of this fact, because there’s no warning given to such consumers that they have an important decision to make.  [Read more…]

How Elder Law Attorneys Assist Senior Citizens

As you and your loved ones get older, new situations will be encountered that involve issues due to aging. You are not quite sure how to solve these problems. Where can you get advice? A good starting place is going to an attorney that specializes in elder law.

What is Elder Law?
Elder Law is a rapidly growing legal practice that assists senior citizens needing help and guidance with legal matters. It specifically focuses on older adults in areas such as estate planning, long-term care, medical directives, nursing home issues, and Medicaid.

Estate Planning
Your parents are aging. You want to encourage them to develop an estate plan. This is a type of advance planning to organize property and financial assets and put in writing what a person’s wishes are for their assets after they are deceased. It is a hard conversation to have with your parents, but will be very useful after they have passed.

Long Term Care
As you age, you may begin thinking about the possibility that you might need assistance in everyday living when you get older. Or maybe your loved ones need that type of help now. There are several options. [Read more…]

‘Do-it-yourself’ will leads to an unfortunate result

Here’s yet another example of how people who try to create their own wills, using a form taken from a book or the Internet, often shoot themselves in the foot. [Read more…]

What you need to know about estate sales

We accumulate a lot of things over a lifetime, and at some point – often because of the death of a loved one, or because a senior is downsizing and moving – we need to get rid of some or all of them. An estate sale is one way to dispose of possessions that you no longer want or need.   [Read more…]

Patients may get more access to experimental drugs

Before it approves a medicine for human use, the federal Food and Drug Administration requires rigorous clinical trials to ensure that it is safe and effective. These clinical trials can take many years. But what about people who have life-threatening illnesses now, and who might benefit from an experimental treatment that is still a long way from approval?

Currently, such patients have two options. One is to enter one of the clinical trials, but this is often impossible due to the patient’s geographic location or stage of illness.  [Read more…]

Congress limits insurance for Medicare deductibles

Medicare beneficiaries often buy “Medigap” insurance policies that pay for many of regular Medicare’s deductibles and copayments.  But as a result of a new law passed by Congress, starting in 2020 Medigap plans will no longer be allowed to offer coverage of the Medicare Part B deductible, which is currently $147.

However, current Medigap policyholders and those buying policies before 2020 will still be eligible for the deductible coverage after that date, so this is something to keep in mind. [Read more…]

If you pay relatives to provide care, you might want to have a contract

A growing number of seniors are providing a salary or other form of reimbursement to their family members who provide them with personal care. If you’re thinking of doing so, it can be a very good idea to draw up a written contract. This can make it easier to qualify for Medicaid, and can help a family in other ways as well.

It might seem odd to sign a contract with your family. Many children feel awkward about asking for compensation, and many parents assume that the children should help them solely out of love. However, children often devote enormous time and resources to caring for an aging relative, and it’s not unreasonable for them to be compensated in some way. And if there are several siblings and one is more involved in providing care than the others, a contract can be a good way to reward the child who is doing the work without having to divide family assets unequally in a will. [Read more…]

Direct Knowledge of Severity of Senior’s Injuries Not Required to Support Conviction for Elder Abuse (Mass. App.)

91-year-old Olivia Cruz died of sepsis caused by wounds developed sitting stationary in her feces and urine while under the care of her son, Filip. When paramedics were called to her home after she suffered a stroke, they were overwhelmed with the odor of urine and rotting flesh. A jury ultimately convicted Filip of wantonly or recklessly permitting serious bodily injury to an elder under his care and with wantonly or recklessly committing abuse, neglect, or mistreatment of Olivia. On appeal, Filip argued that there was insufficient evidence to show that he acted wantonly or recklessly and that the two convictions were duplicative.

The Massachusetts Appellate Court affirmed the convictions. The court held that wanton or reckless conduct, which involves a high degree of likelihood a substantial harm will occur to another, may be based on the defendant’s actual knowledge or what a reasonable person should have known given the circumstances. Even without direct evidence that Filip knew of the severity of his mother’s condition, the court said, there was plenty of circumstantial evidence to support the jury’s verdict. The extent of the foul smell, coupled with the fact that Olivia’s sores were the size of softballs, would have alerted a reasonable person to the severity of the situation. As to Filip’s second claim, the court held both offenses require “proof of an element that the other does not” such that Filip may be punished for two separate crimes arising from the same course of conduct. One count required a showing of abuse, neglect, or mistreatment of an elder while the other required a broader showing of serious bodily injury. Thus, both convictions were affirmed.

Commonwealth v Cruz, 2015 WL 5164397 (Mass. App. Sept. 4, 2015)

Beliveau Law Group: Massachusetts | Florida | New Hampshire

The litigation attorneys at the Beliveau Law Group provides legal services for elder law. The law firm has offices and attorneys in Naples, Florida; Boca Raton, Florida; Danvers, Massachusetts; Waltham, Massachusetts; and Salem, New Hampshire.

 

Elder mediation can reduce family strife

When a parent gets older and begins to need additional care, it can create a lot of stress within a family. Sometimes, it can create conflicts and misunderstandings between family members as well.

For example, siblings might argue over what’s best for an aging parent. Or if one family member is doing the bulk of the care, it can lead to resentment within the family, especially if the person providing the care is also receiving compensation for the work.

One way to deal with these issues is with an elder mediator. A mediator doesn’t make any decisions and doesn’t take sides. Instead, the mediator listens to the issues, keeps the family focused on shared goals, encourages consideration of all the options, and helps clear up misunderstandings and address hurt feelings. Through this process, a family can often come up with new answers to problems or new ways of resolving conflicts. [Read more…]

New rules for reverse mortgages

The federal government has tightened the rules for reverse mortgages, making it harder for some seniors to get these types of mortgages and reducing the amount of a home’s value that can be tapped.

Reverse mortgages allow elders who are house-rich but cash-poor to use their housing equity. Homeowners who are at least 62 years old can obtain a loan that doesn’t have to be repaid until the homeowner moves, sells, or dies. The homeowner receives a sum of money from the lender, usually a bank, based largely on the value of the house, the borrower’s age, and current interest rates. [Read more…]

Seniors who are no longer ‘independent’ can’t be discriminated against

Can an apartment complex require elderly residents to prove that they can live independently? How about a retirement community that caters to both independent and assisted-living residents – can it designate certain apartments or activities as only for people who are independent?

The answer might be more complicated than you think.

Two federal laws – the Fair Housing Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act – protect people with disabilities against discrimination. Landlords who try to limit areas or activities to people who are independent might run afoul of these laws. [Read more…]

Nursing home residents should prepare financially in case their spouse dies first

Seniors who are relying on Medicaid to help pay for expensive nursing home care need to plan carefully for the possibility that their spouse will pass away before they do.

Unlike Medicare, not all seniors are eligible for Medicaid. Medicaid is designed for people with limited income and assets, and to be eligible, you must meet strict financial guidelines. Many people have to spend down their assets to almost nothing and/or exhaust their long-term care insurance before they become eligible.

Of course, this is a problem if a senior is married and his or her spouse does not need nursing home care. It would mean that the spouse would have to be reduced to living in poverty before the senior could be eligible for benefits. [Read more…]

You should have your estate plan reviewed if…

Some people think that once they’ve written a will and implemented an estate plan, they can forget all about it. Of course, that’s not true; an estate plan must be reviewed periodically and updated, or it can become out-of-date and actually frustrate all your good intentions.

As a general rule, an estate plan should be reviewed at least every five years to make sure it still reflects your personal and financial situation, your wishes, and the current tax laws.

But sometimes it’s good to look at an estate plan more often. For instance, if your plan contains any provisions for saving taxes, and it hasn’t been reviewed since the enormous changes in the federal estate tax laws that occurred at the beginning of 2013, it would be a good idea to reconsider whether there are now much more advantageous ways of accomplishing your goals. [Read more…]

Some real estate agents are specializing in helping seniors

Seniors who are buying or selling a house often have very different issues from younger buyers and sellers. They may be contemplating downsizing, moving to a more accessible home, searching for an active adult community, or looking for a way to age in place.

Because of this, some real estate agents have now begun specializing in helping people who are age 50 and older.

A “Seniors Real Estate Specialist,” or SRES, is an agent who has completed a series of courses conducted by the National Association of Realtors on how to help seniors and their families with real estate issues. They can help seniors look at all the options available, including making modifications to a current home, buying or renting a new home, and moving to an assisted living facility. [Read more…]

A quick look at Medicare, Medicaid, and nursing homes

Many people are surprised to discover that Medicare actually provides very limited coverage for nursing homes.

In theory, Medicare Part A covers up to 100 days of care in a skilled nursing facility for each spell of illness. However, this is true only if the nursing-home care follows at least a three-day admission to a hospital. Further, after 20 days, you must pay a copayment of $157 a day (although this may be covered by Medigap insurance).

In addition, the definition of “skilled nursing” and the other conditions for obtaining this coverage are quite stringent. As a result, very few nursing home residents actually receive the full 100 days of coverage. In fact, Medicare pays for less than a quarter of long-term care costs in the U.S. [Read more…]

IRS increases long-term care insurance deductions for 2015

The amount you can deduct on your taxes as a result of buying long-term care insurance has been increased by the IRS for 2015.

If you itemize your deductions, you can generally claim a deduction if your premiums, together with your other unreimbursed medical expenses, amount to more than 10% of your adjusted gross income (or 7.5% if you’re 65 or older).

The maximum amount of the premiums you can deduct each year depends on your age at the end of the year: [Read more…]

Should you buy long-term care insurance? How to decide

One of the most difficult financial decisions for middle-aged and older people is whether to purchase long-term care insurance.

On the one hand, LTCI premiums are generally high, they’re likely to increase in the future, and if you’re in your 50s or 60s, the need is probably decades away.

On the other hand, many people have been saved by having LTCI. It enables them to choose their own care setting, hire help without dipping into savings, and preserve an inheritance for their children.

Because it’s a difficult decision, it’s tempting just to put it off. But unless your circumstances are likely to change drastically in the future, the best time to decide about LTCI is now. Every year you wait, you’ll face higher premiums, and you’ll also run the risk that a health care event will make you ineligible for coverage. [Read more…]

Legal issues to consider when parents are living with their adult children

Did you know that 17 percent of the U.S. population – that’s more than 50 million Americans – are living in households with two adult generations?

Some of these are homes where “boomerang” children have returned home after college. But in a great many cases, seniors who no longer want to live alone (or are no longer able to live alone) are living with their middle-aged children. Sometimes the senior moves in with the children, sometimes the children move in with the senior, and sometimes both generations pool resources and buy a new home together.

In most cases, this works out well for everyone. But there are a lot of financial and legal issues that arise from such a relationship, and you’ll want to make sure you’ve accounted for them in your real estate, tax and estate planning. Not doing so at the beginning can cost a lot of money and stress down the road. [Read more…]

Proposed Modification to Veterans Pensions

The Department of Veteran’s Affairs is seeking to modify its regulations for Veterans Pensions without submitting its proposals to Congress.

Currently, a veteran who served during wartime and has either a non-service connected disability or is over the age of 65 can receive a “Veterans Pension” to help pay for long-term care. Currently, the veteran must meet income and asset requirements. The veteran with a dependent may receive a maximum of $2,120 per month to offset the costs of long-term care. A surviving spouse may qualify for the pension as well, but at a reduced amount with a maximum of $1,149. These amounts help offset the costs of assisted living and in home care, which keep the veteran out of the more costly nursing home and off of Medicaid. [Read more…]

How to make sure your funeral wishes are followed

Many people have very specific preferences for how their funeral should take place. These can include where they want the funeral to be held, who should be invited, what the person will wear, who should speak, what music should be played, and who should act as pallbearers.

If these things are important to you, it’s a good idea to take steps to make sure your wishes are carried out properly. You can write detailed instructions, and let your family know where they can find the information.

It may be tempting to include this information in your will, but you should remember that wills are often not opened until long after the funeral is over. It’s usually better to write a separate document. You might want to attach a copy of it to your health care directive. [Read more…]

Seniors can use Social Security as an interest-free loan

Did you know that if you start receiving Social Security early, but change your mind within 12 months and pay all the money back, you can still wait until your full retirement age and collect much larger monthly benefits?

In effect, after you reach age 62, you can use Social Security as a short-term interest-free loan.

Although this option doesn’t make sense for most people, there are situations where it’s a good idea. For instance, a senior who is laid off from a job after age 62, but expects to find a new job soon, could use Social Security benefits to “tide them over” and then repay the benefits from the new job’s salary. This might be smarter than tapping long-term investments or retirement accounts, both of which could result in higher taxes. [Read more…]

Reverse mortgages can pose big problems for heirs

Reverse mortgages can be a big help to seniors who need extra cash, but they can become a big headache for the person’s family members after they pass away or move to a nursing facility. Family members need to be aware of their rights and obligations, because they usually have to make decisions quickly after a person dies or moves.

Reverse mortgages allow homeowners who are at least 62 years old to borrow money on their house. The homeowner receives a sum of money from the lender, based largely on the value of the home, the age of the borrower, and current interest rates. The loan doesn’t have to be paid back until the house is sold or the homeowner moves out or passes away.

If a couple takes out a reverse mortgage together and one spouse dies, but the other spouse continues living in the house, then nothing happens. But when the last homeowner dies or moves, the entire loan suddenly becomes due. [Read more…]

Here’s yet another danger of ‘do-it-yourself’ wills

Some people try to save money by writing their own will using a pre-printed form or an online program, without consulting a qualified attorney. We often advise people that this is a mistake, and that the potential unfortunate consequences of using a homemade will can be far worse than the cost of doing it the right way in the first place.

A recent case from Florida provides yet another example of why this is true.

A woman named Ann Aldrich wrote her will on something called an “E-Z Legal Form.” She listed her assets – including a house, a car, and a bank account – and said that they should go to her sister. She also said that if her sister died first, they should go to her brother. [Read more…]

Should you enroll in Medicare if you’re still working?

Many people today keep working beyond age 65 – the age when most people become eligible for Medicare. If you’re still working and your employer offers health coverage, do you need to enroll in Medicare? Should you do so?

The answers can be complicated – and there may be different answers for the different “parts” of Medicare. Here’s a closer look:

Medicare Part A. Part A of Medicare covers hospital visits and nursing home stays, as well as certain types of care provided by home health agencies. It’s usually smart to go ahead and enroll in Part A even if you’re still working, since it’s free for most people and it may supplement your employer’s insurance. [Read more…]

Be careful if you want to make changes to your will

If an estate plan isn’t kept current, it can become useless. You always want to make sure your will is up-to-date with your wishes, your financial circumstances, and current tax and other laws.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that changing a will is not a “do-it-yourself” process. Generally, any changes to your will must be made with the same formalities as the will itself, including witnesses and signatures.

In the past, some people have tried to make changes to their will by simply crossing out some parts and writing in others. Not only are these changes unlikely to be legally effective, but in some circumstances they can result in the entire will being declared invalid. At the very least, they can result in a lengthy and expensive court proceeding to sort out your wishes. [Read more…]

Adult day care can provide a much-needed break for caregivers

Caregiving is hard work, and it’s easy for caregivers to become exhausted. Adult day care centers provide care and companionship in a group setting to seniors who need supervision during the day, allowing their caregivers to go to work or take a much-needed break.

There are about 4,600 such programs in the U.S., according to the National Adult Day Services Association. They typically operate Monday through Friday during business hours, and are often affiliated with another facility, such as a nursing home, home care agency or medical center.

Adult day care centers can offer a variety of services such as counseling, exercise, assistance with medication, social activities, physical therapy, and educational programs. Social activities can include crafts, games, gardening, book clubs, field trips, music, pets, and parties. Often the service includes a meal, and some centers provide transportation.   [Read more…]

Your advance medical directive won’t help if no one can find it

An advance medical directive gives instructions on the kind of medical care you would like to receive should you become unable to express your wishes yourself, and it often designates someone to make medical decisions for you. This is an extremely important document – but it won’t be of much value in an emergency if it’s tucked away in a safe deposit box or in a file cabinet where no one can easily find it.

It’s a good idea to carry a card in your wallet or purse saying that you have a directive, and how medical personnel can access it.

For instance, if you routinely carry a cell phone or tablet with you, you could upload your directive as a file on your device. [Read more…]