If You Haven’t Been Regularly Reviewing Your Estate Plan, Start When You Hit 60

How frequently you should review your estate plan depends on how old you are and whether there has been a significant change in your circumstances. If you are over age 60 and you haven't updated your estate plan in many decades, it's almost certain that you need to update your documents. After that, you should review your plan every five years or so. But if you're younger, you don't need to do so nearly as often.

Age

Here are a few age ranges and what they mean in terms of estate planning:

18-30   Everyone needs a durable power of attorney, health care proxy and HIPAA release so that they have people they choose to step in and make decisions for them in the event of incapacity.

30-40   Once you begin accumulating assets, get married, and have children, it's important to create an estate plan to care for your loved ones in the event of your death. It also can't hurt to update your durable power of attorney, health care proxy and HIPAA release, since the people you may have appointed at 18 (your parents?) may not be the people you want in these roles at 35.

40-60   Unless there's been a change in your circumstances, and assuming you've set a good plan in place during your 30s, you probably don't need to review your estate plan during your 40s and 50s.

60-70   Once you've hit your 60s, it's time to take a look. Your children are probably grown. You may have grandchildren. And, hopefully, you've accumulated some wealth. The people you appointed to step in in the event of incapacity when you were 35 may not be in a position to assist when you're 65. You may have retired or are contemplating doing so. And, unfortunately, the chances of disability or death increase with every year.

70+   Now it's time to review your plan every five years or so. Changes happen — to your health and that of your loved ones, to the tax laws, to the programs supporting long-term care or disability care. It's important to have a plan in place and to adjust it as circumstances change.

Change in Circumstances

While the timeline above outlines when you should review and perhaps update your estate plan, it needs to be supplemented by the following potential changes in circumstances that would warrant a review of your plan to see if it still meets your goals and needs:

  • Marriage. You're likely to want your assets to go to your spouse and to name him or her to be your agent in the event of incapacity.
  • Divorce. Likewise, if you get divorced, you probably won't want your assets to go to your ex-spouse or to rely upon him or her to step in if you were to become incapacitated.
  • Children. Once you have children, you'll want to provide for them and to name someone to step in as guardian in the event of your death or incapacity and that of their other parent, if any. Generally, once you have a plan in place you do not have to update it if you have more children.
  • Disability. If you or someone who would inherit from you becomes disabled, you will need to plan to protect and manage your assets, whether for yourself or for your beneficiaries.
  • Wealth. If you accumulate sufficient assets to exceed the thresholds for state and federal estate taxes — $11.4 million federally — you may want to plan to reduce or eliminate such taxes.
  • Moving. If you move to a new state or country, it will be important to have your estate plan reviewed to make sure it works in the new jurisdiction.

In short, until you reach age 60 or 70, reviewing your estate plan every five years probably is overkill. But do so whenever you have a change in circumstances such as those listed above. If you're over 60 and haven't updated your estate plan in many years, now's the time. Then, having a review every five years is definitely a good rule of thumb.

How to Make Your Funeral Wishes Known

How can you make sure your funeral and burial wishes will be carried out after you die? It is important to let your family know your desires and to put them in writing.  Just don’t do it in your will.

To help your loved ones follow your wishes after you are gone, you can write out detailed funeral preferences as well as the requested disposition of your remains. In addition to explaining where you want your funeral to be held, the document can include information about who should be invited, what you want to wear, who should speak, what music should be played, and who should be pallbearers, among other information. Making these decisions ahead of time can not only let everyone know what your wishes are, it can also help your family members during their time of grief.

It may be tempting to include this information in your will, but a will may not be opened until long after the funeral is over. A will is best used for explaining how to distribute your property, not for funeral instructions. You can write your funeral and burial directions in a separate document or you may be able to put your wishes in your health care directive. Whatever you do, make sure your family knows where to find the information.

If you don’t make your wishes known, the responsibility for determining your funeral and burial rests with your loved ones. If you are married, your spouse is usually in charge of making the decisions. If you are not married, the responsibility will likely go to your children, parents, or next of kin. Disputes could arise between family members over what you would have wanted.

It is possible to make funeral arrangements ahead of time with a funeral home. However, be wary of pre-paid funeral plans. Consumers can lose money when pre-need funeral funds are misspent or misappropriated. A funeral provider could mishandle, mismanage or embezzle the funds. Some go out of business before the need for the pre-paid funeral arises. Others sell policies that are virtually worthless.

For help with making your funeral wishes known,  contact Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton.

Be Aware of the Dangers of Joint Accounts

Many people believe that joint accounts are a good way to avoid probate and transfer money to loved ones.  But while joint accounts can be useful in certain circumstances, they can have dire consequences if not used properly.  Adding a loved one to a bank account can expose your account to the loved one’s creditors as well as affect Medicaid planning.

Once money is deposited in a joint account, it belongs to both account holders equally, regardless of who deposited the money. Account holders can withdraw, spend, or transfer money in the account without the consent of the other person on the account. Before putting anyone on a joint account with you, you need to be sure you can trust that person because he or she will have full access to the account. When one account holder dies, the money in the account automatically goes to the other account holder without passing through probate.

One problem with joint accounts is that it makes the account vulnerable to all the account owner’s creditors. For example, suppose you add your daughter to your bank account. If she falls behind on credit card debt and gets sued, the credit card company can use the money in the joint account to pay off your daughter’s debt. Or if she gets divorced, the money in the account could be considered her assets and be divided up in the divorce.

Joint accounts can also affect Medicaid eligibility. When a person applies for Medicaid long-term care coverage, the state looks at the applicant’s assets to see if the applicant qualifies for assistance. While a joint account may have two names on it, most states assume the applicant owns the entire amount in the account regardless of who contributed money to the account. If your name is on a joint account and you enter a nursing home, the state will assume the assets in the account belong to you unless you can prove that you did not contribute to it.

In addition, if you are a joint owner of a bank account and you or the other owner transfers assets out of the account, this can be considered an improper transfer of assets for Medicaid purposes. This means that either one of you could be ineligible for Medicaid for a period of time, depending on the amount of money in the account. The same thing happens if a joint owner is removed from a bank account. For example, if your spouse enters a nursing home and you remove his or her name from the joint bank account, it will be considered an improper transfer of assets.

There is a better way to conduct estate planning and plan for disability. A power of attorney will ensure family members have access to your finances in the case of your disability.  If you are seeking to transfer assets and avoid probate, a trust may make better sense. To learn more, contact Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton.

 

10 Reasons to Create an Estate Plan NOW

Many people think that estate plans are for someone else, not them. They may rationalize that they are too young or don’t have enough money to reap the tax benefits of a plan. But as the following list makes clear, estate planning is for everyone, regardless of age or net worth.

1. Loss of capacity. What if you become incompetent and unable to manage your own affairs? Without a plan the courts will select the person to manage your affairs. With a plan, you pick that person through a power of attorney.

2. Minor children. Who will raise your children if you die? Without a plan, a court will make that decision. With a plan, you are able to nominate the guardian of your choice.

3. Dying without a will. Who will inherit your assets? Without a plan, your assets pass to your heirs according to your state’s laws of intestacy (dying without a will). Your family members (and perhaps not the ones you would choose) will receive your assets without benefit of your direction or of trust protection. With a plan, you decide who gets your assets, and when and how they receive them.

4. Blended families. What if your family is the result of multiple marriages? Without a plan, children from different marriages may not be treated as you would wish. With a plan, you determine what goes to your current spouse and to the children from a prior marriage or marriages.

5. Children with special needs. Without a plan, a child with special needs risks being disqualified from receiving Medicaid or SSI benefits, and may have to use his or her inheritance to pay for care. With a plan, you can set up a supplemental needs trust that will allow the child to remain eligible for government benefits while using the trust assets to pay for non-covered expenses.

6. Keeping assets in the family. Would you prefer that your assets stay in your own family? Without a plan, your child’s spouse may wind up with your money if your child passes away prematurely. If your child divorces his or her current spouse, half of your assets could go to the spouse. With a plan, you can set up a trust that ensures that your assets will stay in your family and, for example, pass to your grandchildren.

7. Financial security. Will your spouse and children be able to survive financially? Without a plan and the income replacement provided by life insurance, your family may be unable to maintain its current living standard. With a plan, life insurance can mean that your family will enjoy financial security.

8. Retirement accounts. Do you have an IRA or similar retirement account? Without a plan, your designated beneficiary for the retirement account funds may not reflect your current wishes and may result in burdensome tax consequences for your heirs. With a plan, you can choose the optimal beneficiary.

9. Business ownership. Do you own a business? Without a plan, you don’t name a successor, thus risking that your family could lose control of the business. With a plan, you choose who will own and control the business after you are gone.

10. Avoiding probate. Without a plan, your estate may be subject to delays and excess fees (depending on the state), and your assets will be a matter of public record. With a plan, you can structure things so that probate can be avoided entirely.

Contact Amy Stratton or Kristen Prull Moonan to discuss your estate plan.

 

MSW Again Part of Leading Ladies

 

We are pleased to again be included in the special Leading Ladies section of Providence Monthly/East Side Monthly, highlighting over 75 “inspiring, passionate, determined leaders who are making a difference in their communities across Rhode Island.”

What a Good Long-Term Care Insurance Policy Should Include

Nursing home and long-term care costs continue to rise and it is difficult to qualify for Medicaid to pay for nursing home costs. Long-term care insurance can help cover expenses, but long term care insurance contracts are notoriously confusing. How do you figure out what is right for you? The following are some tips to help you sort through all the different options.

Find a strong insurance company

The first step is to choose a solid insurance company. Because it is likely you won’t be using the policy for many years, you want to make sure the company will still be around when you need it. Make certain that the insurer is rated in the top two categories by one of the services that rates insurance companies, such as A.M. Best, Moodys, Standard & Poor’s, or Weiss.

What is covered

Policies may cover nursing home care, home health care, assisted living, hospice care, or adult day care, or some combination of these. The more comprehensive the policy, the better. A policy that covers multiple types of care will give you more flexibility in choosing the care that is right for you.

Waiting period

Most long-term care insurance policies have a waiting period before benefits begin to kick in. This waiting period can be between 0 and 90 days, or even longer. You will have to cover all expenses during the waiting period, so choose a time period that you think you can afford to cover. A longer waiting period can mean lower premiums, but you need to be careful if you are getting home care. Look for a policy that bases the waiting period on calendar days. For some insurance companies, the waiting period is not based on calendar days, but on days of reimbursable service, which can be very complicated. Some policies may have different waiting periods for home health care and nursing home care, and some companies waive the waiting period for home health care altogether.

Daily benefit

The daily benefit is the amount the insurance pays per day toward long-term care expenses. If your daily benefit doesn’t cover your expenses, you will have to cover any additional costs. Purchasing the maximum daily benefit will assure you have the most coverage available. If you want to lower your premiums, you may consider covering a portion of the care yourself. You can then insure for the maximum daily benefit minus the amount you are covering. The lower daily benefit will mean a lower premium.

It is important to determine how the daily benefit is calculated. It can be each day’s actual charges (called daily reimbursement) or the daily average, calculated each month (called monthly reimbursement). The latter is better for home health care because a home care worker might come for a full day, one day, and then only part of the day, the next day.

Benefit period

When you purchase a policy, you need to choose how long you want your coverage to last. In general, you do not need to purchase a lifetime policy three to five years’ worth of coverage should be enough. In fact a new study from the American Association of Long-term Care Insurance shows that a three-year benefit policy is sufficient for most people. According to the study of in-force long-term care policies, only 8 percent of people needed coverage for more than three years. So, unless you have a family history of a chronic illness, you aren’t likely to need more coverage. If you are buying insurance as part of a Medicaid planning strategy, however, you will need to purchase at least enough insurance to cover the five-year lookback period. That way you can transfer assets to your children or grandchildren before you enter the nursing home, use the long-term care coverage to wait out Medicaid’s new five-year look-back period, and after those five years have passed apply for Medicaid to pay your nursing home costs (provided the assets remaining in your name do not exceed Medicaid’s limits).

If you do have a history of a chronic disease in your family, you may want to purchase more coverage. Coverage for 10 years may be enough and would still be less expensive than purchasing a lifetime policy.

Inflation protection

As nursing home costs continue to rise, your daily benefit will cover less and less of your expenses. Most insurance policies offer inflation protection of 5 percent a year, which is designed to increase your daily benefit along with the long-term care inflation rate of 5.6 percent a year. Although inflation protection can significantly increase your premium, it is strongly recommended. There are two main types of inflation protection: compound interest increases or simple interest increases. If you are purchasing a long-term care policy and are younger than age 62 or 63, you will need to purchase compound inflation protection. This can, however, more than double your premium. If you purchase a policy after age 62 or 63, some experts believe that simple inflation increases should be enough, and you will save on premium costs.

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

Protecting Your House After You Move Into a Nursing Home

While you generally do not have to sell your home in order to qualify for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care, it is possible the state can file a claim against your house after you die, so you may want to take steps to protect your house.

If you get help from Medicaid to pay for the nursing home, the state must attempt to recoup from your estate whatever benefits it paid for your care. This is called “estate recovery,” and given the rules for Medicaid eligibility, the only property of substantial value that a Medicaid recipient is likely to own at death is his or her home. If possible, you should consult with your attorney before entering a nursing home, or as soon as possible afterwards, in order to discuss ways to protect your home.

The home is not counted as an asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes if the equity is less than $585,000 (in 2019) ($878,000 in some states). In all states, you may keep your house with no equity limit if your spouse or another dependent relative lives there.

Transferring a Home
In most states, transferring your house to your children (or someone else) may lead to a Medicaid penalty period, which would make you ineligible for Medicaid for a period of time. There are circumstances in which it is legal to transfer a house, however, so consult an attorney before making any transfers. You may freely transfer your home to the following individuals without incurring a transfer penalty:

  • Your spouse
  • A child who is under age 21 or who is blind or disabled
  • Into a trust for the sole benefit of a disabled individual under age 65 (even if the trust is for the benefit of the Medicaid applicant, under certain circumstances)
  • A sibling who has lived in the home during the year preceding the applicant’s institutionalization and who already holds an equity interest in the home
  • A “caretaker child,” who is defined as a child of the applicant who lived in the house for at least two years prior to the applicant’s institutionalization and who during that period provided care that allowed the applicant to avoid a nursing home stay.

While you can sell your house for fair market value, it may make you ineligible for Medicaid and you may have to apply the proceeds of the sale to your nursing home bills.

Lien on Home
Except in certain circumstances, Medicaid may put a lien on your house for the amount of money spent on your care. If the property is sold while you are still living, you would have to satisfy the lien by paying back the state. The exceptions to this rule are cases where a spouse, a disabled or blind child, a child under age 21, or a sibling with an equity interest in the house is living there.

Estate Recovery
If your spouse, a disabled or blind child, a child under age 21, or a sibling with an equity interest in the house, lives in the house, the state cannot file a claim against the house for reimbursement of Medicaid nursing home expenses. However, once your spouse or dependent relative dies or moves out, the state can try to collect.

But there are some circumstances under which the value of a house can be protected from Medicaid recovery. The state cannot recover if you and your spouse owned the home as tenants by the entireties or if the house is in your spouse’s name and you have relinquished your interest. If the house is in an irrevocable trust, the state cannot recover from it.

In addition, some children or relatives may be able to protect a nursing home resident’s house if they qualify for an undue hardship waiver. For example, if your daughter took care of you before you entered the nursing home and has no other permanent residence, she may be able to avoid a claim against your house after you die.

Consult with an attorney to find out if the undue hardship waiver may be applicable or learn more from Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton.

Getting Paid as a Family Caregiver Through Medicaid

Caring for an ailing family member is difficult work, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be unpaid work. There are programs available that allow Medicaid recipients to hire family members as caregivers.

All 50 states have programs that provide pay to family caregivers. The programs vary by state, but are generally available to Medicaid recipients, although there are also some non-Medicaid-related programs.

Medicaid’s program began as “cash and counseling,” but is now often called “self-directed,” “consumer-directed,” or “participant-directed” care. The first step is to apply for Medicaid through a home-based Medicaid program. Medicaid is available only to low-income seniors, and each state has different eligibility requirements. Medicaid application approval can take months, and there also may be a waiting list to receive benefits under the program.

The state Medicaid agency usually conducts an assessment to determine the recipient’s care needs—e.g., how much help the Medicaid recipient needs with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, eating, and moving. Once the assessment is complete, the state draws up a budget, and the recipient can use the allotted funds to pay for goods or services related to care, including paying a caregiver. Each state offers different benefits coverage.

Recipients can choose to pay a family member as a caregiver, but states vary on which family members are allowed. For example, most states prevent caregivers from hiring a spouse, and some states do not allow recipients to hire a caregiver who lives with them. Most programs allow ex-spouses, in-laws, children, and grandchildren to serve as paid caregivers, but states typically require that family caregivers be paid less than the market rate in order to prevent fraud.

In addition to Medicaid programs, some states have non-Medicaid programs that also allow for self-directed care. These programs may have different eligibility requirements than Medicaid and are different in each state. Family caregivers can also be paid using a “caregiver contract,” increasingly used as part of Medicaid planning.

In some states, veterans who need long-term care also have the option to pay family caregivers. In 37 states, veterans who receive the standard medical benefits package from the Veterans Administration and require nursing home-level care may apply for Veteran-Directed Care. The program provides veterans with a flexible budget for at-home services that can be managed by the veteran or the family caregiver. In addition, if a veteran or surviving spouse of a veteran qualifies for Aid & Attendance benefits, they can receive a supplement to their pension to help pay for a caregiver, who can be a family member.

All of these programs vary by state. Contact your attorney to find out what is available in your state or learn more from Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton.

For more information about these programs and other ways to be paid as a family caregiver, click here and here.

How Parents Can Provide for a Caregiver Child

Taking care of a parent can be a full-time job. Children may have to give up paying jobs in order to provide care to aging parents. Unfortunately, caregiving is usually unpaid work. Parents who want to compensate a child who takes on the burden of caregiving may do so in one of several ways.

  • Caregiver Agreements. Caregiver agreements are an increasingly popular way to ensure a caregiver child is compensated for the child's work. A caregiver agreement (also called a personal care contract) is a contract between a parent and a child (or other family member) in which the parent agrees to reimburse the child for caring for the parent. These agreements have many benefits. They provide a way to reward the family member doing the work. They can help alleviate tension between family members by making sure caregiving is fairly compensated. In addition, they can be a be a key part of Medicaid planning, helping to spend down savings so that the parent might more easily be able to qualify for Medicaid long-term care coverage, if necessary. The downside to caregiver agreements is that the income is taxable.  Note that such agreements should not be drawn up without the help of your attorney.
  • Estate Plan. A parent can leave a caregiver child an additional amount in the parent's will or trust. The problem with this method of compensation is that it can lead to conflict between siblings or other family members. If a parent chooses to go this route, it is important that the parent explain his or her reasoning to any other children or family members that might be upset. Communication between the family members can prevent problems later. In addition, to avoid any appearance of undue influence, the parent should not involve the child in drafting the estate plan. 
  • House. If a parent doesn't have cash to compensate a child, the parent may transfer the parent's house to the caregiver child. The parent can transfer the house outright and retain a life estate for him- or herself or the parent could make the child a co-owner of the house. If the caregiver child has lived with the parent for at least two years, transferring a house can have Medicaid planning advantages as well. However, transferring a house can have serious tax and other consequences, so before taking this step it is important to consult with an elder law attorney.
  • Life Insurance Policy. Another option for compensating a caregiver is to take out a life insurance policy in the child's name. The benefit of this method is that the life insurance policy will go directly to the child, avoiding probate, but the problem is the life insurance policy could be very expensive.

Your attorney can help determine the right method to compensate a caregiver family member. 

 

Revoking a Power of Attorney

If for any reason, you become unhappy with the person you have appointed to make decisions for you under a durable power of attorney, you may revoke the power of attorney at any time. There are a few steps you should take to ensure the document is properly revoked.

While any new power of attorney should state that old powers of attorney are revoked, you should also put the revocation in writing. The revocation should include your name, a statement that you are of sound mind, and your wish to revoke the power of attorney. You should also specify the date the original power of attorney was executed and the person selected as your agent. Sign the document and send it to your old agent as well as any institutions or agencies that have a copy of the power of attorney. Attach your new power of attorney if you have one.

You will also need to get the old power of attorney back from your agent. If you can’t get it back, send the agent a certified letter, stating that the power of attorney has been revoked.

Because a durable power of attorney is the most important estate planning instrument available, if you revoke a power of attorney, it is important to have a new one in place. Your attorney can assist you in revoking an old power of attorney or drafting a new one.

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