Elder Law Articles

Reverse mortgages increasingly available for high-value homes

Seniors with pricier homes now have an increased ability to get a bigger reverse mortgage in order to raise cash for retirement. As the housing market has improved, so-called jumbo reverse mortgages are becoming more popular even though they carry some risk.

Reverse mortgages allow homeowners who are at least 62 years of age to borrow money on their house. The homeowner receives a sum of money from the lender, based largely on the value of the house, the age of the borrower and current interest rates. The loan does not need to be paid back until the last surviving homeowner dies, sells the house or permanently moves out. Homeowners can use money from a reverse mortgage to pay for improvements to their home, to allow them to delay taking Social Security or to pay for home health care, among other things.

The most widely available reverse mortgage product is the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), the only reverse mortgage program insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). However, the FHA sets a ceiling on the amount that can be borrowed against a single-family house, which is determined on a county-by-county basis. The national limit on the amount a homeowner can borrow is $625,000.  [Read more…]

Don’t wait until it’s too late to execute a power of attorney

A durable power of attorney is an extremely important estate planning tool, often more important than a will.  If you become incapacitated due to dementia or some other reason, this crucial document allows a person you appoint (your “attorney-in-fact” or “agent”) to act in place of you (the “principal” ) for financial purposes.  The agent under the power of attorney can quickly step in and take care of your affairs.

But in order to execute a power of attorney and name an agent to stand in your shoes, you need to have capacity.  Regrettably, many people delay completing this vital estate planning step until it’s too late and they no longer are legally capable of doing it.

What happens then? Without a durable power of attorney, no one can represent you unless a court appoints a conservator or guardian. That court process takes time and costs money, and the judge may not choose the person you would prefer. In addition, under a guardianship or conservatorship the representative may have to seek court permission to take planning steps that he or she could have implemented immediately under a simple durable power of attorney. [Read more…]

Life insurance can play role as part of estate plan

For young families, life insurance can be a great help in replacing lost income.  But as people get older it can also serve as part of an estate plan.

Historically, one main reason to buy life insurance as part of an estate plan was to have cash available to pay estate taxes. Now that the estate tax exemption is so big (in 2016, estates could exempt $5.45 million per individual from taxation), most estates don’t pay federal estate taxes, and President Donald Trump and his Republican allies would like to eliminate the estate tax entirely. However, life insurance can still be helpful in a number of other ways:

  • Providing immediate cash. Life insurance provides cash to use for the payment of debt, burial or estate administration fees. In addition, life insurance can be used to pay state estate taxes, if applicable. [Read more…]

The life estate: a useful tool in the right circumstances

The term “life estate” often comes up in discussions of estate and Medicaid planning. Life estates can be used to avoid probate and to give a house to children without relinquishing the ability to live in it.  They also can play an important role in Medicaid planning.  But what, exactly, does the term mean and how are life estates used?

A life estate is a form of joint ownership that allows one person to remain in a house until his or her death, when it passes to the other owner.  Two or more people each have an ownership interest in a property, but for different periods of time. The person holding the life estate — the life tenant — possesses the property during his or her life. The other owner — the “remainderman” — has a current ownership interest but cannot take possession until the death of the life estate holder. The life tenant has full control of the property during his or her lifetime and has the legal responsibility to maintain the property as well as the right to use it, rent it out and make improvements to it.

When the life tenant dies, the house will not go through probate, since at the life tenant’s ownership passes automatically to the holders of the remainder interest. Because the property is not included in the life tenant’s probate estate, it can avoid Medicaid estate recovery in states that have not expanded the definition of estate recovery to include non-probate assets. Even if the state does place a lien on the property to recoup Medicaid costs, the lien will be for the value of the life estate, not the full value of the property. [Read more…]

Are you covered by Medicare while traveling within the U.S.?

Those who have reached age 65, the typical age of Medicare eligibility, often have more time to spend traveling.  Although Medicare coverage is generally not available when beneficiaries are overseas, the news may be better for those exploring destinations closer to home.

If you have the original Medicare, the answer is simple: You can travel anywhere in the U.S. or its territories and receive health services from any doctor or hospital that accepts Medicare.  (“Territories” includes Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.) The amount you will pay depends on whether the provider “accepts assignment.”  Providers that take assignment agree to accept the approved Medicare amount as payment in full, although in the case of outpatient visits you or your Medigap insurer may be left with a 20 percent coinsurance, as would be the case for care at home.

Providers that don’t accept assignment may charge you up to 15 percent above the Medicare-approved amount, although this percentage may be lower in some states. In the case of providers that don’t accept Medicare at all, you will have to pay the entire cost of care. [Read more…]

Steer clear of non-lawyers offering Medicaid planning services

As the U.S. population ages, more non-lawyers are starting businesses that offer Medicaid planning services to seniors. While using one of these services may be cheaper than hiring a lawyer, the ultimate costs may be far greater.

If you use a non-lawyer to do Medicaid planning, they may not have any legal knowledge or training. Bad advice can lead seniors to purchase products or take actions that won’t help them qualify for Medicaid and may actually make it more difficult. The consequences of taking bad advice can include the denial of benefits, a Medicaid penalty period or a tax liability.

As a result of problems that have arisen from non-lawyers offering Medicaid planning services, a few states (Florida, Ohio, New Jersey and Tennessee) have issued regulations or guidelines providing that Medicaid planning by non-lawyers will be considered the unauthorized practice of law. [Read more…]

Rule requiring retirement advisers to put their client’s interests ahead of their own is delayed

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order calling for a review of the so-called fiduciary rule, which was intended to prevent financial advisers from steering their clients to bad retirement investments by requiring these advisers to act in the best interests of their clients. The order delays the rule, which was scheduled to go into effect in April 2017, and the rule may ultimately be repealed.

Prompted by concern that many financial advisers have a sales incentive to recommend retirement investments with high fees and low returns to their clients because the advisers get higher commissions or other incentives, the Department of Labor drew up rules in April 2016 that would require advisers to act like fiduciaries.

The rule required all financial professionals who offer advice related to retirement savings to provide recommendations that are in a client’s best interest. Currently, financial advisers only have to recommend suitable investments, which means they can push products that may benefit them more than their clients. The rule would require advisers to not accept compensation or payments that would create a conflict unless they have an enforceable contract agreeing to put the client’s interest first. Advisers also would have to disclose any conflicts and charge reasonable compensation. [Read more…]

What is undue influence, and how can it be avoided?

Saying that there has been “undue influence” is often used as a reason to contest a will or estate plan, but what does the term mean?

Undue influence occurs when someone exerts pressure on an individual, causing that individual to act contrary to his or her wishes to the benefit of the influencer or the influencer’s friends. The pressure can take the form of deception, harassment, threats or isolation. Often the influencer separates the individual from loved ones in order to coerce him or her. The elderly and infirm are usually more susceptible to undue influence.

To prove a loved one was subject to undue influence in drafting an estate plan, you have to show that the loved one disposed of his or her property in a way that was unexpected under the circumstances, that he or she is susceptible to undue influence (because of illness, age, frailty or a special relationship with the influencer), and that the person who exerted the influence had the opportunity to do so. Generally, the burden of proving undue influence is on the person asserting that it took place. However, if the alleged influencer had a “fiduciary relationship” with the loved one (meaning that the loved one placed a high degree of trust in the influencer to handle his or her affairs), the burden may be on the influencer to prove that there was no undue influence. People who have a fiduciary relationship can include a child, a spouse or an agent under a power of attorney. [Read more…]

Understanding the tax consequences of inheriting a Roth IRA

Passing down a Roth IRA can seem like a good idea, but it doesn’t always make the most sense. Before converting a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA to benefit your heirs, you should consider the tax consequences.

Earnings in a traditional IRA generally are not taxed until they are distributed to you. At age 70 1/2 you have to start taking distributions from a traditional IRA. By contrast, contributions to a Roth IRA are taxed, but the distributions are tax-free. You also do not have to take distributions from a Roth IRA.

Leaving your heirs a tax-free Roth IRA can be used as part of an estate plan. However, in figuring out the best type of IRA to leave to your beneficiaries, you need to consider whether your beneficiary’s tax rate will be higher or lower than your tax rate when you fund the IRA. In general, if your beneficiary’s tax rate is higher than your tax rate, then you should leave your beneficiary a Roth IRA. Because the funds in a Roth IRA are taxed before they are put into the IRA, it makes sense to fund it when your tax rate is lower. On the other hand, if your beneficiary’s tax rate is lower than your tax rate, a traditional IRA might make more sense. That way, you won’t pay the taxes at your higher rate. Instead, your beneficiary will pay at the lower tax rate. [Read more…]

Medicaid’s benefits for assisted living facility residents

Assisted living facilities are a housing option for people who can still live independently but who need some help.  Costs for these facilities can range from $2,000 to more than $6,000 a month, depending on location.  Medicare won’t pay for this type of care, but Medicaid might.  Almost all state Medicaid programs will cover at least some assisted living costs for eligible residents.

Unlike with nursing home stays, there is no requirement that Medicaid pay for assisted living, and no state Medicaid program can pay directly for a Medicaid recipient’s room and board in an assisted living facility. But with assisted living costs roughly half those of a semi-private nursing home room, state officials understand that they can save money by offering financial assistance to elderly individuals who are trying to stay out of nursing homes. [Read more…]

How to pass your home to your children tax-free

Giving your house to your child or children can have tax consequences, but there are ways to accomplish this tax-free. The best method to use will depend on your individual circumstances and needs.

Leave the house in your will

The simplest way to give your house to your children is to leave it to them in your will. In 2017, as long as the total amount of your estate is under $5.49 million it will not pay estate taxes. In addition, when your children inherit property it reduces the amount of capital gains taxes they will have to pay if they sell the property. Capital gains taxes are paid on the difference between the “basis” in property and its selling price. If children inherit property, the property’s tax basis is “stepped up,” which means the basis would be the value of the property at the time of death, not the original cost of the property.

There are some downsides to this approach. Some states have smaller estate tax exemptions than the federal exemption, meaning that leaving the property in your estate may cause it to owe state taxes. Also, if you were to need Medicaid at any time before you died, a lien might be put on the property and it might need to be sold after your death to repay Medicaid. [Read more…]

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…]