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…]

Median private nursing home room is now $87,600 a year

The median cost of a private nursing home room in the U.S. is now $87,600 a year, an increase of 4.4 percent over last year, according to a study by the Genworth Financial insurance company.

The median cost of a semi-private room is $77,380, up 2.6 percent.

For assisted living facilities, the median rate is now $3,500 a month, according to the study. The national median rate for home health aides is $20 an hour, up 1.6 percent over last year. [Read more…]

Many still unaware that Medicare covers chronic conditions

A lot of health care providers still don’t know that the law has changed, and that Medicare now covers many skilled nursing, home health care and therapy services even if they simply maintain a person’s health and don’t improve their condition.

Although the government launched an educational campaign about the change earlier this year, a large number of providers are still in the dark and are refusing to provide treatment on the grounds that Medicare won’t cover it, according to a report by the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

The change is very important for seniors who suffer from diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, arthritis, or the effects of a stroke, among other conditions. [Read more…]

Five common myths about Medicaid and long-term care

Medicare gets a lot of news coverage, but its cousin Medicaid remains something of mystery to most people. The Medicaid program is the largest single source of funding for nursing home care in the U.S., but there are many myths about exactly who qualifies for it and what coverage it provides. Here are five common misperceptions, followed by the real story:

1. I don’t have to worry about Medicaid, because Medicare will cover all my nursing home expenses.

Actually, Medicare’s coverage for nursing homes is quite limited. Medicare covers only up to 100 days of skilled nursing care per illness. That means that after about three months, Medicare’s coverage runs out. [Read more…]

How to deal with a deceased loved one’s debt collectors

The last thing anyone wants after a death in the family is calls from debt collectors. So it’s important to know what a person’s creditors can (and cannot) legally do, and how to protect yourself and your family from improper or deceptive practices.

Generally, after people die, their estate is responsible for paying any debts they may have left. If the estate doesn’t have enough money to pay a debt, then the creditor is out of luck and the debt goes unpaid. The only exceptions are that a spouse may be responsible for a joint debt, and a family member or other person might be responsible if they co-signed or guaranteed a debt.

If you’re unsure, a lawyer can help you determine whether another family member is responsible for a mortgage, a credit card payment, medical bills, and so on. [Read more…]

What to do if Medicare refuses to pay for your treatment

Sometimes Medicare will decide that a particular treatment or service isn’t covered, and will deny your claim. The good news is that if you believe you should have been paid, you can appeal.

The federal government makes the general rules for Medicare, but the day-to-day administration is handled by private insurance companies that contract with the government. In addition, the government contracts with committees of physicians who decide the appropriateness of care received by most Medicare beneficiaries in hospitals.

Many of the decisions made by insurance companies and doctors’ committees are highly subjective. For instance, they might involve a judgment call as to whether a given treatment is medically necessary, or whether a service is “custodial care” as opposed to medical care. [Read more…]

Here’s help for people who have to manage someone else’s money

Have you been officially asked to manage someone else’s money? For example, have you been named as an agent under a power of attorney, or a trustee of a trust?

As our society ages, more and more people are being asked to take on these roles, but they can be daunting.

In order to help, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has published four free guides, under the general title Managing Someone Else’s Money. The guides are designed for (1) agents under a power of attorney, (2) court-appointed guardians and conservators, (3) trustees of a living trust, and (4) people appointed to manage someone else’s government benefit checks. [Read more…]

New rules make it harder to get a reverse mortgage

The federal government has tightened the rules on reverse mortgages, making it harder for some seniors to get these types of loans 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 may use the equity in their home to 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 age of the borrower, and current interest rates.

Homeowners can get the money in one of three ways (or in any combination): in a lump sum, as a line of credit that can be drawn on at the borrower’s option, or in a series of regular payments, called a “reverse annuity mortgage.” Seniors sometimes use these loans to pay for home care while they remain in the home. [Read more…]

Is your living trust up-to-date?

A revocable or “living” trust can be a great way to avoid probate, manage your assets if you become impaired, and protect your family’s privacy. If you have one, it’s a good idea to review it every few years to make sure that it still meets your goals and is up-to-date with the law.

The most important questions involve which assets are in the trust and what will become of them if something should happen to you. But there are a lot of other factors to think about that can also be very important for your estate plan. Here are some common issues and problems with living trusts that you might want to consider:

1. Do you have the right successor trustees? Typically, you’ll be the trustee of your own living trust, and if you’re married, your spouse might be a co-trustee. But it’s good to name successor trustees in case you or your spouse pass away or become incapacitated. Have you done so? If so, are the people you named still the best people to manage your affairs? Do you want one of them to begin acting as a trustee now? If you and your spouse are co-trustees, do you want a successor to step in when the first of you becomes incapacitated, or not until neither of you can serve? [Read more…]

Can you write your will on your computer?

Javier Castro was in the hospital and wanted to write a will. Because there was no paper handy, he used a Samsung Galaxy tablet computer and signed the will using the tablet’s stylus. His brothers also signed as witnesses. After Javier’s death, his family printed out the will and submitted it to probate in Ohio.

A judge accepted the will, finding that it met the requirements of Ohio law, which are that a will be in writing, signed by the testator, and witnessed. (If the will hadn’t been approved, Javier’s estate would have passed to his parents under state law, and not to the people and organizations he designated in the will.)

Although the judge approved the will, he noted that the legislature needs to update the law to address electronic wills. [Read more…]

How life insurance affects your Medicaid eligibility

In order to qualify for Medicaid in most states, you can’t have more than $2,000 in “countable” assets. When calculating their total assets, many people overlook life insurance, which can count as an asset depending on the type of insurance and the value of the policy.

Life insurance policies are usually either “term” or “whole life.” Term policies don’t count as an asset – and won’t affect Medicaid eligibility – because they don’t have an accumulated cash value. On the other hand, whole-life policies usually have a cash value that the owner can access, so they may be counted as an asset.

Medicaid generally exempts “small” whole-life policies – those with a death benefit of $1,500 or less. But if a policy’s face value is more than $1,500, then the policy’s cash surrender value becomes a countable asset.

Example: A whole-life policy has a death benefit of $1,750 and a cash surrender value of $700. Because the death benefit is more than $1,500, the $700 surrender value counts toward the $2,000 asset limit. [Read more…]

IRS increases long-term care insurance deductions for 2014

The amount you can deduct on your taxes as a result of buying long-term care insurance has been increased by the IRS for 2014.

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:

 

Age Maximum deduction
40 or younger $370
41-50 $700
51-60 $1,400
61-70

70 or older

$3,720

$4,660

   

[Read more…]

Here’s a new idea for buying long-term care insurance

Many middle-income people have too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but can’t afford a pricey long-term care insurance policy. In an effort to encourage more people to buy long-term care insurance, Congress created something called the “Qualified State Long-Term Care Partnership” program. In states that offer the program, you can buy special long-term care policies that allow you to protect your assets and still qualify for Medicaid when the long-term care policy runs out.

Here’s how it works: You buy a long-term care policy that is sold by a private company but that has been approved by the state under the program. The policy will cover at least some of your long-term care needs. If the policy runs out and you need to go on Medicaid, you can keep more of your assets than the $2,000 that Medicaid normally allows.

In most states, it’s a dollar-for-dollar benefit – for every dollar of coverage that the long-term care policy provides, you can keep a dollar in assets that normally would have to be spent down to qualify for Medicaid. [Read more…]

Surviving spouses may get help with reverse mortgages

A federal court has thrown a life preserver to some surviving spouses who are facing foreclosure due to an “underwater” reverse mortgage.

In a traditional mortgage, you borrow money against your house and pay it back in monthly installments over time. With a reverse mortgage, you borrow money against your house, but you don’t have to pay it back until you die, sell the house, or move – which means you don’t owe anything as long as you stay in your home. In most cases, to qualify you must be at least 62 years old.

Sometimes, only one spouse has his or her name on a reverse mortgage. This might be because the other spouse was under age 62 when the mortgage was taken out, for example. In the past, some lenders have encouraged couples to put only the older spouse’s name on the mortgage because the couple could borrow more money that way. [Read more…]

How divorce and remarriage affect Social Security benefits

Many people are aware that seniors are entitled to collect Social Security benefits that are calculated based on their spouse’s work record. What’s less well-known is that this benefit applies in many cases to divorced spouses. In fact, ex-spouses may even be entitled to survivors benefits in certain circumstances.

As a spouse, you have the option of (1) claiming a Social Security retirement benefit based on your own earnings record, or (2) collecting a spousal benefit equal to one-half of your spouse’s Social Security benefit. You are automatically entitled to whichever benefit is higher, and you can collect on your spouse’s record even if you never worked yourself.

A divorced spouse can collect benefits based on an ex-spouse’s work record, whether or not the ex-spouse has remarried and whether or not the ex-spouse’s new spouse is also collecting on the same work record. [Read more…]

My moms deed was written in 2011, can it changed to an irrevocable trust now in 2014 without Medicaid problems?

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

The deed on my moms house is written as “tenants in common” to all her children. It was written up in 2011 like that. She wants an irrevocable trust written now on the deed. So that, if she goes into a nursing home, then Medicaid can’t take it. Can that be done without a problem if she goes into a nursing home within 5 years? or since it was written in 2011, does it look fishy to redo it in 2014?

ATTORNEY ANSWER BY MARGARET L. CROSS:

Your question implies that your mother deeded all of her ownership to her children in 2011. If that is so, she is about half-way through the look back period for Medicaid. The children have an option of creating a trust for your mother. This is called a third party trust. The trust beneficiary can be your mother. As long as the Trustee is not required to distribute the trust property to your mother, the trust will not be a countable asset if she needs to apply for Medicaid. This action will not extend the look back period for your mother .

If your mother retained a tenant in common interest with her children, then she has a right to be concerned. MassHealth will not force her to sell her home while she is living but will place a lien on the property and collect after your mother’s death through the probate process.

You will need to consult a Medicaid attorney in your area.

Legal Disclaimer: Please note that this answer does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on since each situation is fact specific, and it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship. A lawyer experienced in the subject area and licensed to practice in the jurisdiction should be consulted for legal advice. Circular 230 Disclaimer: Any information in this answer may not be used to eliminate or reduce penalties by the IRS or any other governmental agency.

Beliveau Law Group: Massachusetts | Florida | New Hampshire

The elder law attorneys at the Beliveau Law Group provides legal services for estate and asset protection planning. The law firm has offices and attorneys in Naples, Florida; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Danvers, Massachusetts; Waltham, Massachusetts; Quincy, Massachusetts; Manchester, New Hampshire and Salem, New Hampshire.

If my mom goes into a nursing home next month, can her house be taken?

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

this is what the deed is saying I,…,individually for consideration paid $1.00 grant to myself, for my life and the remainder in fee simple to my children as tenants in common. Also, if the daughter is living with the mom before she goes into a nursing home, can the house be taken?

ATTORNEY ANSWER BY MARGARET L. CROSS:

I believe that you are trying to determine if you mother can qualify for MassHealth and will MassHealth force your mother to sell the home.

It appears that your mother executed a life estate deed. If she did that over five years ago, she has passed the look back period and your mother will not be penalized. However, if it was not over five years ago, there will be a disqualification period applied to the transfer.

If you are still in the look back period, the live-in daughter may qualify as a caretaker child. Did she live with mom for at least 2 years? Did she provide care which delayed mom’s entry into the nursing home? If yes, your mother can deed the house to the caretaker child without penalty. This would require the other children to deed their interests back to mom and the caretaker child.

You should consult with an elder law attorney.

Legal Disclaimer: Please note that this answer does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on since each situation is fact specific, and it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship. A lawyer experienced in the subject area and licensed to practice in the jurisdiction should be consulted for legal advice. Circular 230 Disclaimer: Any information in this answer may not be used to eliminate or reduce penalties by the IRS or any other governmental agency.

Beliveau Law Group: Massachusetts | Florida | New Hampshire

The elder law attorneys at the Beliveau Law Group provides legal services for estate and asset protection planning. The law firm has offices and attorneys in Naples, Florida; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Danvers, Massachusetts; Waltham, Massachusetts; Quincy, Massachusetts; Manchester, New Hampshire and Salem, New Hampshire.

Social Security retirement benefits may be taxable

Social Security retirement benefits by themselves are generally not taxable – but people with even a modest amount of income in addition to their Social Security payments may end up having to pay taxes on their benefits.

The tax result is determined by something called “combined income,” which is one-half of your Social Security income plus all your additional income (including non-taxable interest).

For married couples, if your combined income is between $32,000 and $44,000, you may have to pay tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits. If your combined income is more than $44,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable. [Read more…]

Protecting your home from Medicaid’s ‘estate recovery’

After a Medicaid recipient dies, the state will attempt to recoup whatever benefits it paid for the person’s care from his or her estate. This process is called “estate recovery.”

For most Medicaid recipients, their house is the principal asset available. Unfortunately, this usually means that the state can order a sale of the house, and the person will be unable to leave his or her family home to his or her family.

There are some techniques, though, that may help protect at least a share of the family home. How well these techniques work depends in part on the state where the Medicaid recipient lives and where the house is located, but it’s worth exploring with an attorney whether they would work for you. [Read more…]

Can an assisted living facility kick someone out?

It’s not uncommon for an assisted living facility to try to force a resident out, or to refuse to renew the person’s lease.

Often, the reason is that the facility believes that the resident’s condition has deteriorated to the point where it can no longer provide all the services that he or she needs.

But there might be other reasons, too. Some facilities don’t want to keep people who are eligible for Medicaid, even if the facility is approved to participate in Medicaid. And sometimes a resident is simply viewed as a “troublemaker.”

If you or someone you know is facing an assisted living discharge that you believe is unfair, it may be possible to fight it. The legal rules, however, are often unclear, and vary a great deal from location to location. [Read more…]

Expanded Medicare coverage for chronic conditions now in effect

Seniors who have chronic illnesses and disabilities can now get Medicare coverage for skilled nursing and therapy services … even if those services will simply maintain the person’s present health status and aren’t likely to improve their condition.

This is very important news for people who have diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, arthritis, or the effects of a stroke, among other conditions.

Earlier this year, the government agreed to settle a class action lawsuit over this issue. That settlement has now been approved by a federal court – and what’s more, the settlement has been made retroactive to January 18, 2011, so if you were denied coverage for services after that date, you might be able to go back and re-apply for coverage. [Read more…]

How to choose the Medicare drug plan that’s right for you

Choosing the best drug plan under Medicare Part D isn’t always easy. Some people just pick the plan with the lowest premium, but that plan might not be the best value for you, depending on your needs.

The real cost of a plan depends not only on the premium, but also on the availability of the drugs you need, your additional out-of-pocket costs, and how convenient it is to obtain your medications.

Here are the key factors to consider (besides the premium) when deciding on a Part D plan:

► The formulary. A plan’s “formulary” is the list of drugs it covers and will pay for.  Does the plan you’re considering include all the drugs you need, or anticipate needing? How much will they cost?  [Read more…]

What happens if your long-term care insurance company fails?

People typically buy long-term care insurance years before they need it. As a result, they’re taking a gamble that the company will still be around when it’s time to pay out. What happens if the company goes out of business?

Usually, insurance companies don’t just suddenly shut their doors. Most commonly, another insurance company will buy out or absorb a company that’s in trouble, and the new company will honor the old company’s policies.

But in cases where an insurance company simply fails, every state has an insurance guaranty association that protects consumers. The purpose of this association is to take over the policies of an insurance company that’s experiencing financial difficulties and ensure that claims are paid. The guaranty association may provide insurance coverage directly to consumers, or it may facilitate the sale of the policies to another insurance company. It’s also possible that policyholders will be given the opportunity to cash in their policies. [Read more…]

Consult an attorney before signing a nursing home agreement

A nursing home agreement is a binding contract that typically involves a large amount of money. Just as with a real estate contract, it’s wise to have an attorney review the agreement before you sign it, so you can understand exactly what your rights and responsibilities will be.

That can be especially true if you’re signing a contract for an aging relative. For instance, you’ll want to know to what extent you might become personally responsible to pay for your relative’s care.

In one recent case, Judy Andrien signed an admission agreement with a nursing home in Connecticut on behalf of her mother. Judy signed the contract as a “responsible relative,” and she agreed to pay the nursing home out of her mother’s assets and assist in arranging for Medicaid coverage. [Read more…]

Retirement community fees might be tax-deductible

Here’s some good news for people who live in – or are thinking of entering – a “continuing care retirement community.” These are communities for older people that provide an entire continuum of care, from independent living to nursing home, so that residents can “age in place” and not have to move elsewhere if their faculties start to diminish.

These communities are an appealing option, but they can be very expensive. The good news is that there is a tax break that could help defray the costs.

When moving into a community, residents typically sign a contract that includes a hefty entrance fee, which might or might not be refundable. Residents pay a monthly fee as well. Entry fees can run from $20,000 to more than $500,000, with monthly charges ranging from $200 to $3,500 or more.  [Read more…]

Women may soon pay more for long-term care insurance

Long-term care insurance may soon be getting more expensive for women. That’s because two of the country’s biggest long-term care insurance providers have announced plans to introduce “gender-based” pricing.

The simple fact is that, on average, women live longer than men. Life insurance has long recognized this fact, and life insurance premiums typically vary based on gender.  However, long-term care insurance has always been gender-neutral.

This started changing recently when Genworth Financial decided to charge more for policies purchased by single women. John Hancock quickly followed suit, and other insurers are likely to fall in line.

Genworth hasn’t said how much it will raise rates for women, but according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, women will likely end up paying 20 to 40 percent more than men. [Read more…]

How married couples can maximize their Social Security benefits

Applying for Social Security can seem easy, but there are actually a great many options and choices, and figuring out which one works best for you often requires a lot of strategizing.

For instance, the longer you wait to apply for Social Security, the higher the monthly benefit you’ll receive.

Depending on what year you were born, Social Security calculates what it considers your “full” retirement age. If you claim benefits before that age, Social Security penalizes you by reducing your benefit. If you claim benefits after that age, Social Security rewards you with “delayed retirement credits” and a significantly larger benefit.

So you’ll need to decide if it makes sense to apply sooner, and receive a smaller monthly check for the rest of your life, or wait and apply later, when you’ll be eligible for a larger amount. [Read more…]

‘Do it yourself’ will-writing websites panned by Consumer Reports

A growing number of websites now allow people to plug in information about themselves and write their own will. But doing so can be very dangerous and can lead to big problems, according to an independent review by Consumer Reports.

The magazine analyzed three such sites – LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, and Quicken WillMaker Plus – and ran the results by a law professor who specializes in tax and estate law. All three websites had a variety of problems, according to the study.

The problems included:

Outdated information. Two sites applied federal tax rules that were already months out-of-date.

Not state-specific. The law of wills varies from state to state, but the programs didn’t take into account variations in state law. [Read more…]

Nursing home residents have rights!

Many people incorrectly believe that once seniors enter a nursing home, their freedom is over. In fact, nursing home residents have many rights, and it is important to know those rights and to be able to enforce them.

Nursing home residents’ rights are protected under federal law. In broad terms, nursing homes are required to ensure that every resident be given whatever services are necessary to function at the highest level possible. Here are some of the specific protections that residents have:

  • Residents have a right to privacy in all aspects of their care. This means that phone calls and mail should be private, and residents should be able to close doors and windows.
  • Residents may bring belongings from home, and nursing home staff members are required to assist residents in protecting those belongings. [Read more…]

Annual gift tax exemption has been increased to $14,000

The annual gift tax exemption has been increased to $14,000 in 2013, up from $13,000 last year. That’s due to an adjustment for inflation.

This means that you can give any person $14,000 this year without any gift tax liability at all. Making annual gifts of the exemption amount is one of the best and easiest forms of estate planning, because it transfers assets from one generation to the next without any tax liability whatsoever.

If you have multiple heirs, the amount you can give away tax-free multiplies quickly. For instance, if you have two children, and each child is married and has two children, you can give $14,000 to each child, spouse and grandchild. That’s eight recipients at $14,000 each, or a potential maximum gift of $112,000 a year. If your spouse gave an additional $14,000 to each recipient, that would be $224,000. [Read more…]

How to save money on long-term care insurance

Often, the best way to handle the problem of long-term health care costs is to buy long-term care insurance. If you can afford the premiums and you’re insurable, this can save you a lot of money in the long run.

However, long-term care insurance can be expensive. If you’re thinking about purchasing a policy, here are some things to consider:

How much coverage do you really need? A good way to get started, and to avoid overpaying, is to calculate how much of a benefit you actually require.

For instance, the national average cost of a private room in a nursing home is about $250 a day, and the average monthly base rate in an assisted living facility is $3,550, according to MetLife’s 2012 survey of long-term care costs. These numbers can vary widely from location to location. [Read more…]

Why some doctors bill Medicare patients more than others

If you have original Medicare, then choosing which doctor you visit can make a big difference in how much you have to pay.

Under Medicare Part B, which pays for doctor visits, once your annual deductible is met, Medicare pays 80 percent of what it considers a “reasonable charge” for the item or service. You’re responsible for the other 20 percent.

However, in most cases, what Medicare calls a “reasonable charge” is less than what a medical provider normally charges for the service. Whether a Medicare beneficiary must pay part of the difference between the Medicare-approved charge and the provider’s normal charge depends on whether the provider has agreed to participate in the Medicare program. [Read more…]

Five things to discuss with your spouse before you retire

You may have a vision for your retirement, but does your spouse share that vision?

A recent study by Fidelity Investments found that many couples are not in accord about retirement. For example, one-third of couples approaching retirement disagree about or don’t know where they are going to live after they retire, and 62 percent don’t agree on their expected retirement ages.

Here are some important things to discuss with your spouse as you get ready to retire:

1. When to stop working. Many factors go into a decision about when to retire, including job enjoyment and financial needs. But you’ll also want to plan how to maximize your Social Security benefits. There are a number of different strategies for when each spouse should file for various types of benefits, and couples who do it wrong can leave a lot of money on the table. [Read more…]

Tax deductions for long-term care insurance are increased

The amount you can deduct on your taxes as a result of buying long-term care insurance has been increased by the IRS for 2013.

If you itemize your deductions, you can generally deduct part of your premiums if the premiums, together with your other unreimbursed medical expenses, amount to more than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (or 7.5 percent if you’re age 65 or older).

The maximum amount of premiums you can deduct each year depends on your age at the end of the year. For 2013, the maximums are:

 Age                                                     Maximum deduction

40 or less                                             $360

41-50                                                   $680

51-60                                                   $1,360

61-70                                                   $3,640

Over 70                                               $4,550

[Read more…]

Average private nursing home room is $90,520 a year

The cost of long-term care increased significantly in the past year, according to a new survey by MetLife.

The cost of a private room in a nursing home jumped 3.8%, to an average of $90,520 a year. That works out to $248 a day.

The cost of a semi-private room increased by 3.7% to $81,030 a year, or $222 a day.

The average cost for an assisted living facility rose 2.1%, to $42,600 a year. And the average rate charged by homemakers and companions increased by 5.3%, to $20 per hour.

On the other hand, the average cost of adult day care services was unchanged at $70 per day, and the average rate for home health aides remained at $21 per hour. [Read more…]

Medicare expands coverage for chronic conditions

In a major change, the federal government has agreed to provide seniors who have chronic illnesses and disabilities with Medicare coverage for many services … even if those services will simply maintain the person’s present health status and aren’t likely to improve their condition.

This is very important news for people who have diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, arthritis, or the effects of a stroke, among other medical conditions.

Soon, these seniors may be able to obtain Medicare coverage for care in a skilled nursing facility, as well as home health care and outpatient therapy. [Read more…]

Can someone with dementia sign a will?

Millions of people are affected by some form of dementia. Unfortunately, many of them don’t have all their estate planning affairs in order before the symptoms begin to appear. This is another good reason to speak with an elder law attorney now, rather than putting off such a discussion.

However, if someone you know has symptoms of dementia, it might not be too late to sign a will or other estate planning documents.

In order for a will to be valid, the person signing it must have “testamentary capacity,” which means that he or she must understand the implications of what’s being signed. It’s not the case that people automatically can’t sign a will if they’re affected by a disease or a mental illness. This doesn’t matter as long as the person is lucid enough at the time to know what they’re doing. [Read more…]

A frequent Medicare sign-up mistake can lead to big penalties

Most people should sign up for Medicare when they reach 65; if they wait until later, they have to pay a significant penalty when they do sign up. There’s an exception, though, for people who are still employed at age 65 and are covered by a group health plan. These people can delay signing up for Medicare without a penalty.

But here’s a common problem: Suppose you’re no longer working when you turn 65, but you’re still covered by your old employer’s group health plan under COBRA?

COBRA is a federal law that allows many workers to continue on their employer’s health plan for up to 18 months after their employment is terminated or their hours are reduced.   [Read more…]

Rock star Jim Morrison’s will demonstrates an all-too-common error

Jim Morrison, the lead singer of the popular rock band The Doors, died in 1971 at age 27. Before his death he had signed a simple, one-page will that left everything to his girlfriend, Pamela Courson (or if she died before he did, to his brother and sister).

As a result of the will, Pamela inherited his entire estate. Pamela herself died shortly afterward of a heroin overdose. Because Pamela didn’t have a will, most of Morrison’s fortune then went by law to Pamela’s closest living relatives – her parents.

Now, Pamela’s father was a former Navy officer and a high school principal in conservative Orange County, California. He probably never imagined that he would spend decades collecting millions of dollars in rock-and-roll royalties, or that he would have artistic control over a counterculture legend’s poetry and a major say in how Morrison was portrayed in movies such as The Doors. [Read more…]

Assisted living residents on Medicaid could be evicted after a hospital stay

Some residents of assisted living facilities who are covered by Medicaid are at risk of being evicted if they leave the facility for a period of time – even if they leave merely for a temporary hospitalization.

This is a significant problem that seniors should be aware of when they are planning for long-term care.

In general, Medicaid will pay nursing homes to hold a room for a Medicaid recipient who is temporarily absent due to a hospitalization. This entitles the resident to return to the first-available room. [Read more…]

Some seniors are losing their homes due to unpaid property taxes

An 81-year-old woman in Rhode Island was evicted shortly before Christmas from the home she had lived in for more than 40 years – because she failed to pay a $474 sewer bill.

A corporation then bought her house at a tax sale for $836.39…and later resold it for $85,000.

While this is an extreme case, it’s a symptom of a growing trend. More and more seniors around the country are being forced to pay large, unnecessary fees – or even losing their homes – as a result of unpaid property tax bills. [Read more…]

Long-Term Care Insurance Bill in Massachusetts has passed

GOV. SIGNS LONG-TERM CARE INSURANCE BILL: After taking his full 10 days to review, Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday afternoon signed long-term care insurance legislation (S 2359) that sets new standards for policies and creates consumer protections. Long-term care insurance regulations already exist in Massachusetts, but the new law requires the insurance commissioner to promulgate the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ model, which provides additional consumer protections. It also gives the insurance commissioner increased authority over rate-setting and cost controls. Its sponsors say it will protect some elderly patients from losing their homes to pay for long-term care. Currently, patients who go into a nursing home are allowed to keep their homes if they have bought a sufficient amount of long-term care insurance to cover some of the costs before Medicaid coverage takes over. In some instances, elderly patients choose home care before going into a nursing home, bringing their long-term care benefits below the minimum amount required – sometimes leading them to lose their homes to the state to cover the costs of care, according to sponsors of the legislation. The law limits MassHealth’s estate recovery ability for people holding approved plans.

Beliveau Law Group: Massachusetts | Florida | New Hampshire

The estate planning attorneys at the Beliveau Law Group provides legal services for estate and asset protection planning. The law firm has offices and attorneys in Naples, Florida; Boca Raton, Florida; Danvers, Massachusetts; Waltham, Massachusetts; Quincy, Massachusetts; Manchester, New Hampshire and Salem, New Hampshire.

Reverse mortgage borrowers are getting younger

The average age of people who take out a reverse mortgage is dropping, according to a new study by MetLife. Unfortunately, these types of mortgages come with risks, so younger borrowers need to be careful.

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 house, the age of the borrower, and current interest rates. The loan doesn’t have to be paid back until the last surviving homeowner dies, sells the house, or permanently moves out. [Read more…]

Giving your home to your children can have tax consequences

Many people wonder if it’s a good idea to give their home to their children. While it’s possible to do this, giving away a house can have major tax consequences, among other results.

When you give anyone (other than a spouse) property valued at more than $13,000 in any one year, you must file a gift tax return.

You won’t owe any federal gift taxes if the total value of your gift, in addition to any previous gifts over the $13,000 limit, is under the exemption amount. That amount is about $5 million in 2012, but it’s scheduled to be reduced to $1 million next year. [Read more…]

Here’s an easy new way to compare home health agencies

Given the choice, most seniors who need help with care would prefer to remain at home rather than move to a nursing home. One way to avoid nursing home care is to hire help at home through a home health care agency. But how can you tell which is the best one to choose?

This just got a bit easier for Medicare recipients, who can now see the results of surveys of patients who have used various agencies’ services in the past. Findings from a national survey that asks patients about their experiences with Medicare-certified home health agencies are now available on Medicare’s Quality Care Finder website, www.medicare.gov/quality-care-finder. [Read more…]