Learn About Social Security’s Online Tools

With the aging population becoming increasingly tech savvy, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has moved a lot of services online. From applying for Social Security benefits to replacing a card, the SSA has online tools to help.

To access most of the online services, you need to create a my Social Security account. This account allows you to receive personalized estimates of future benefits based on your real earnings, see your latest statement, and review your earnings history. You can also request a replacement Social Security card, check the status of an application, get direct deposit, or change your address. If you are a representative payee, you can use my Social Security to complete representative payee accounting reports. Even if you don’t get benefits, you can use the account to request a benefit verification letter.

In addition to my Social Security, other online services are available, including the following:

For a full run down of the online services available, click here. Or contact Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton here.

Can You Put a Surveillance Camera in a Nursing Home Room?

Technological advances have made it easier to stay connected with loved ones all the time. This has included the ability to install cameras in a loved one’s nursing home room. These so-called “granny cams” have legal and privacy implications.

The benefit of putting a surveillance camera in a nursing home is the ability to monitor your family member’s care. Families that suspect abuse or neglect can keep on eye caregivers. Being able to observe care from afar can give family members peace of mind that their loved one is being well taken care of. It can also serve as evidence if abuse is found. Even if there is no abuse, cameras can be helpful to observe if caregivers are using improper techniques that may injure a resident.

On the other hand, cameras raise privacy concerns for both residents (including roommates) and caregivers. Residents may not want to be monitored while they are in a vulnerable state, such as changing or bathing. If the recording device picks up audio, then even the resident’s conversations may no longer be private.

All this aside, do nursing homes have to permit families to install cameras?  This varies depending on the facility. Some nursing homes may have language in their admission contracts banning cameras or imposing specific requirements for their use. However, concerns over elder abuse have led some states to pass laws allowing cameras in nursing homes. At least six states — Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington — have passed laws permitting families to install a camera in a nursing home if the resident and the resident’s roommate have agreed. Utah permits cameras in assisted living facilities. New Jersey does not have a law specifically permitting cameras, but it has a program that loans surveillance cameras to families who suspect abuse. In other states, the law surrounding camera use is more vague.

If you are considering installing a camera in a loved one’s nursing home room, you should contact your attorney to discuss the legal and practical implications. Reach out to Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton here.

For a fact sheet about nursing home surveillance from The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, click here.  And keep in mind the Consumer Voice’s advice that cameras are “no substitute for personal involvement and monitoring.”

 

IRS Issues Long-Term Care Premium Deductibility Limits for 2019

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is increasing the amount taxpayers can deduct from their 2019 income as a result of buying long-term care insurance.

Premiums for “qualified” long-term care insurance policies (see explanation below) are tax deductible to the extent that they, along with other unreimbursed medical expenses (including Medicare premiums), exceed 7.5 percent of the insured’s adjusted gross income.  (The 7.5 percent threshold is for the 2017 and 2018 tax years.  It is scheduled to revert to 10 percent in 2019.)

These premiums — what the policyholder pays the insurance company to keep the policy in force — are deductible for the taxpayer, his or her spouse and other dependents. (If you are self-employed, the tax-deductibility rules are a little different: You can take the amount of the premium as a deduction as long as you made a net profit; your medical expenses do not have to exceed a certain percentage of your income.)

However, there is a limit on how large a premium can be deducted, depending on the age of the taxpayer at the end of the year. Following are the deductibility limits for 2019. Any premium amounts for the year above these limits are not considered to be a medical expense.

Attained age before the close of the taxable year Maximum deduction for year
40 or less $420
More than 40 but not more than 50 $790
More than 50 but not more than 60 $1,580
More than 60 but not more than 70 $4,220
More than 70 $5,270

Another change announced by the IRS involves benefits from per diem or indemnity policies, which pay a predetermined amount each day.  These benefits are not included in income except amounts that exceed the beneficiary’s total qualified long-term care expenses or $370 per day, whichever is greater.

For these and other inflation adjustments from the IRS, click here.

What Is a “Qualified” Policy?

To be “qualified,” policies issued on or after January 1, 1997, must adhere to certain requirements, among them that the policy must offer the consumer the options of “inflation” and “nonforfeiture” protection, although the consumer can choose not to purchase these features. Policies purchased before January 1, 1997, will be grandfathered and treated as “qualified” as long as they have been approved by the insurance commissioner of the state in which they are sold.

Or contact Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton here.

Don’t Make the Mistake of Not Signing up for Medicare Supplemental Coverage

You are turning 65 and enrolling in Medicare, but as a healthy senior do you really need to also sign up for Medicare’s supplemental coverage? Not signing up initially can be very costly down the road.

Medicare pays for only about half of all medical costs. To augment Medicare’s coverage, you can purchase a supplemental or “Medigap” insurance policy from a private insurer. There are 10 Medigap plans that each offers a different combination of benefits, allowing purchasers to choose the combination that is right for them. In addition, Medicare offers a federally subsidized prescription drug program, in which private health insurers provide limited insurance coverage of prescription drugs to elderly and disabled Medicare recipients.

Purchasing the supplemental coverage means paying more premiums. If you don’t go to the doctor very often or have any regular prescriptions, you may not want to sign up for the additional coverage. However, if you get sick, what Medicare doesn’t cover can be a lot more costly than the extra premiums. And buying coverage after you get sick can be difficult and expensive.

You cannot be denied a Medigap policy for pre-existing conditions if you apply within six months of enrolling in Medicare Part B. If you don’t buy a policy right away, the plan can use medical underwriting to decide whether to accept your application. The plan will look at your age, gender, and pre-existing conditions and can charge you higher premiums, restrict coverage, or even reject your application.

Beneficiaries who enroll in Medicare Advantage plans can’t also buy a Medigap policy. But if they chose Medicare Advantage as their first form of insurance and later decide to return to original Medicare, they must select a Medigap policy within the first year of their initial Medicare enrollment or risk being shut out of a policy.

Medicare beneficiaries are also subject to significant financial penalties for late enrollment in the Medicare drug benefit (Medicare Part D). For every month you delay enrollment past the Initial Enrollment Period, the Medicare Part D premium will increase at least 1 percent. For example, if the premium is $40 a month, and you delay enrollment for 15 months, your premium penalty would be $6 (1 percent x 15 x $40 = $6), meaning that you would pay $46 a month, not $40, for coverage that year and an extra $6 a month each succeeding year.

There are some exceptions built in to both Medigap and Medicare Part D if you did not enroll right away because you had other coverage. But if you choose not to enroll because you think you won’t need the plan, it is not easy to change your mind later on.

To learn more, contact Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton here.

It’s Open Enrollment Season: Is Your Medicare Plan Still Working For You?

Do you have the right Medicare plan? It is fall, which means it is time to think about whether your current plan is still giving you the best coverage or whether a new plan could save you money or offer better coverage. Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, during which you can freely enroll in or switch plans, runs from October 15 to December 7.

During this period you may enroll in a Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan or, if you currently have a plan, you may change plans. In addition, during the seven-week period you can return to traditional Medicare (Parts A and B) from a Medicare Advantage (Part C, managed care) plan, enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, or change Advantage plans. Beneficiaries can go to www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to make changes in their Medicare prescription drug and health plan coverage.

Even beneficiaries who have been satisfied with their plans in 2018 should review their choices for 2019, as both premiums and plan coverage can fluctuate from year to year. Are the doctors you use still part of your Medicare Advantage plan’s provider network? Have any of the prescriptions you take been dropped from your prescription plan’s list of covered drugs (the “formulary”)? Could you save money with the same coverage by switching to a different plan?

For answers to questions like these, carefully look over the plan’s “Annual Notice of Change” letter to you. Prescription drug plans can change their premiums, deductibles, the list of drugs they cover, and their plan rules for covered drugs, exceptions, and appeals. Medicare Advantage plans can change their benefit packages, as well as their provider networks. For information about entering and leaving Medicare Advantage plans, click here.

Remember that fraud perpetrators will inevitably use the Open Enrollment Period to try to gain access to individuals’ personal financial information. Medicare beneficiaries should never give their personal information out to anyone making unsolicited phone calls selling Medicare-related products or services or showing up on their doorstep uninvited. If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud or identity theft, contact Medicare.

Here are more resources for navigating the Open Enrollment Period:

Or contact Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton.

Be Careful About Putting Only One Spouse’s Name on a Reverse Mortgage

A recent case involving basketball star Caldwell Jones demonstrates the danger in having only one spouse’s name on a reverse mortgage. A federal appeals court has ruled that an insurance company may foreclose on a reverse mortgage after the death of the borrower, Mr. Jones, even though Mr. Jones’ widow is still living in the house. While there are protections in place for non-borrowing spouses, many spouses are still facing foreclosure and eviction.

A reverse mortgage allows homeowners to use the equity in their home to take out a loan, but borrowers must be 62 years or older to qualify for this type of mortgage. If one spouse is under age 62, the younger spouse has to be left off the loan in order for the couple to qualify for a reverse mortgage. Some lenders have actually encouraged couples to put only the older spouse on the mortgage because the couple could borrow more money that way. But couples often did this without realizing the potentially catastrophic implications. If only one spouse’s name was on the mortgage and that spouse died, the surviving spouse would be required to either repay the loan in full or face eviction.

In order to protect non-borrowing spouses, the federal government revised its guidelines for reverse mortgages taken out after August 4, 2014 to allow spouses to stay in the house as long as they meet certain criteria, including proving ownership within 90 days of the borrowers death. In 2015, the federal government allowed lenders to defer foreclosure on a widow or widower and assign the mortgage to the federal government. Advocacy groups looking at reverse mortgage foreclosures have found that despite these new regulations, lenders are still foreclosing on non-borrowing spouses. Of the 591 non-borrowing spouses who have sought help to avoid foreclosure, only 317 received assistance.

These regulations did not help Mr. Jones’ wife, Vanessa. Mr. Jones, who blocked more than 2,200 shots during his 17-year professional basketball career, obtained a reverse mortgage in 2014 on the Georgia home he lived in with his wife. The contract defined the “borrower” to be “Caldwell Jones, Jr., a married man.” Ms. Jones did not put her name on the reverse mortgage because she was under age 62 at the time of the mortgage. Mr. Jones died later that year, and when Ms. Jones did not repay the loan, the insurer began foreclosure proceedings.

Ms. Jones sued the insurer in federal court to prevent the foreclosure, arguing that federal law prohibited the insurer from foreclosing on the house while she lived in it. Under a provision in federal law, the federal government “may not insure” a reverse mortgage unless the “homeowner” does not have to repay the loan until the homeowner either dies or sells the mortgaged property and defines “homeowner” to include the borrower’s spouse.

On appeal, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (Estate of Caldwell Jones, Jr. v. Live Well Financial (U.S. Ct. App., 11th Cir., No. 17-14677, Sept. 5, 2018)) ruled that the federal law in question only covers what the federal government can insure and does not govern the insurer’s right to foreclose. The court agrees with Ms. Jones that the law is intended to safeguard widows and implies that the federal government should not have insured the loan in the first place, but finds that federal law does not cover the insurer’s private right to demand immediate payment and pursue foreclosure.

When purchasing a reverse mortgage, it is always safer to put both spouse’s names on the mortgage. If one spouse is underage when the mortgage is originally taken out, that spouse can be added to the mortgage when he or she reaches age 65. If you have a reverse mortgage with only one spouse on it, contact your attorney to find out the best way to protect the non-borrowing spouse.

Reach out to Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton here.

2019 Will Bring Social Security Beneficiaries the Biggest Increase in Eight Years

The Social Security Administration has announced a 2.8 percent increase in benefits in 2019, the largest increase since 2012.  The change will put an additional $468 annually in the pocket of the average retired beneficiary.

Cost of living increases are tied to the consumer price index, and an upturn in inflation rates and gas prices means recipients get a boost in 2019. The 2.8 percent increase is higher than last year’s 2 percent rise and the .3 percent increase in 2017. The average monthly benefit of $1,422 in 2018 will increase by $39 a month to $1,461 a month for an individual beneficiary, or $468 yearly. The cost of living change also affects the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax, which will grow from $128,700 to $132,900.

And there is more good news: Unlike last year’s increase, the additional income should not be entirely eaten up by higher Medicare Part B premiums. The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B enrollees will increase only $1.50 to $135.50.

For 2019, the monthly federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment standard will be $771 for an individual and $1,157 for a couple.

Most beneficiaries will be able to find out their cost of living adjustment online by logging on to my Social Security in December 2018. While you will still receive your increase notice by mail, in the future you will be able to choose whether to receive your notice online instead of on paper.

For more on the 2019 Social Security benefit levels, click here. Or contact MSW partners Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton.

For First Time, Median Cost of Private Nursing Home Room Hits Six Figures in Annual Survey

The median cost of a private nursing home room in the United States increased to $100,375 a year in 2018, up 3 percent from 2017, according to Genworth’s Cost of Care survey, which the insurer conducts annually.

At the same time, Genworth reports that the median cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is $89,297, up 4 percent from 2017. While significant, the rise in prices is not quite as steep as the 5.5 percent and 4.4 percent gains, respectively, in 2017.

But the median cost of assisted living facilities jumped 6.7 percent, to $4,000 a month. The national median rate for the services of a home health aide is $22 an hour, and the cost of adult day care, which provides support services in a protective setting during part of the day, rose from $70 to $72 a day.

Alaska continues to be the costliest state for nursing home care by far, with the median annual cost of a private nursing home room totaling $330,873. Oklahoma again was found to be the most affordable state, with a median annual cost of a private room of $63,510.

The 2018 survey, conducted by CareScout for the fifteenth straight year, was based on responses from more than 15,500 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult day health facilities and home care providers.  Survey respondents were contacted by phone during May and June 2018.

As the survey indicates, nursing home care is growing ever more expensive. Contact your elder law attorney to learn how you can protect some or all of your family’s assets.

For more on Genworth’s 2018 Cost of Care Survey, including costs for your state, click here. Or contact Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton.

 

Thanks to All Walkers & Donors for Walk to End Alzheimer’s

It was a fun-filled, sunshine-drenched,  record-setting year for us with funds raised totaling over $2,700 for the  2018 Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Providence.

Thanks to all our clients, colleagues, referrals sources, friends and family who participated and supported us.

We are grateful for your generosity to this cause, which is near and dear to our hearts … and to the hearts of many of our clients.

Currently, more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s and that number is expected to grow to as many as 16 million by 2050. THANK YOU!

 

 

 

 

 

How to Handle Sibling Disputes Over a Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is one of the most important estate planning documents, but when one sibling is named in a power of attorney, there is the potential for disputes with other siblings. No matter which side you are on, it is important to know your rights and limitations.

A power of attorney allows someone to appoint another person — an “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” — to act in place of him or her — the “principal” — if the principal ever becomes incapacitated. There are two types of powers of attorney: financial and medical. Financial powers of attorney usually include the right to open bank accounts, withdraw funds from bank accounts, trade stock, pay bills, and cash checks. They could also include the right to give gifts. Medical powers of attorney allow the agent to make health care decisions. In all of these tasks, the agent is required to act in the best interests of the principal. The power of attorney document explains the specific duties of the agent.

When a parent names only one child to be the agent under a power of attorney, it can cause bad feelings and distrust. If you are dealing with a sibling who has been named agent under a power of attorney or if you have been named agent under a power of attorney over your siblings, the following are some things to keep in mind:

  • Right to information. Your parent doesn’t have to tell you whom he or she chose as the agent. In addition, the agent under the power of attorney isn’t required to provide information about the parent to other family members.
  • Access to the parent. An agent under a financial power of attorney should not have the right to bar a sibling from seeing their parent. A medical power of attorney may give the agent the right to prevent access to a parent if the agent believes the visit would be detrimental to the parent’s health.
  • Revoking a power of attorney. As long as the parent is competent, he or she can revoke a power of attorney at any time for any reason. The parent should put the revocation in writing and inform the old agent.
  • Removing an agent under power of attorney. Once a parent is no longer competent, he or she cannot revoke the power of attorney. If the agent is acting improperly, family members can file a petition in court challenging the agent. If the court finds the agent is not acting in the principal’s best interest, the court can revoke the power of attorney and appoint a guardian.
  • The power of attorney ends at death. If the principal under the power of attorney dies, the agent no longer has any power over the principal’s estate. The court will need to appoint an executor or personal representative to manage the decedent’s property.

If you are drafting a power of attorney document and want to avoid the potential for conflicts, there are some options. You can name co-agents in the document. You need to be careful how this is worded or it could cause more problems. The best way to name two co-agents is to let the agents act separately. Another option is to steer clear of family members and name a professional fiduciary.

Sibling disputes over how to provide care or where a parent will live can escalate into a guardianship battle that can cost the family thousands of dollars. Drafting a formal sibling agreement (also called a family care agreement) is a way to give guidance to the agent under the power of attorney and provide for consequences if the agreement isn’t followed. Even if you don’t draft a formal agreement, openly talking about the areas of potential disagreement can help. If necessary, a mediator can help families come to an agreement on care.

To determine the best way for your family to provide care, consult with your MSW attorneys.