Category : News

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. 

 

 

Can I Give My Kids $15,000 a Year?

If you have it to give, you certainly can, but there may be consequences should you apply for Medicaid long-term care coverage within five years after each gift.

The $15,000 figure is the amount of the current gift tax exclusion (for 2018), meaning that any person who gives away $15,000 or less to any one individual in one particular year does not have to report the gift to the IRS, and you can give this amount to as many people as you like. If you give away more than $15,000 to any one person in a single year (other than your spouse), you will have to file a gift tax return. However, this does not necessarily mean you’ll pay a gift tax. You’ll have to pay a tax only if your reportable gifts total more than $11.18 million (2018 figure) during your lifetime.

Many people believe that if they give away an amount equal to the current $15,000 annual gift tax exclusion, this gift will be exempted from Medicaid’s five-year look-back at transfers that could trigger a waiting period for benefits. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The gift tax exclusion is an IRS rule, and this IRS rule has nothing to do with Medicaid’s asset transfer rules. While the $15,000 that you gave to your grandchild this year will be exempt from any gift tax, Medicaid will still count it as a transfer that could make you ineligible for nursing home benefits for a certain amount of time should you apply for them within the next five years. You may be able to argue that the gift was not made to qualify you for Medicaid, but proving that is an uphill battle.

If you think there is a chance you will need Medicaid coverage of long-term care in the foreseeable future, see your elder law attorneys at MSW before starting a gifting plan.

It’s Now Harder for Veterans to Qualify for Long-Term Care Benefits

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has finalized new rules that make it more difficult to qualify for long-term care benefits. The rules establish an asset limit, a look-back period, and asset transfer penalties for claimants applying for VA pension benefits that require a showing of financial need. The principal such benefit for those needing long-term care is Aid and Attendance.

The VA offers Aid and Attendance to low-income veterans (or their spouses) who are in nursing homes or who need help at home with everyday tasks like dressing or bathing. Aid and Attendance provides money to those who need assistance.

Currently, to be eligible for Aid and Attendance a veteran (or the veteran’s surviving spouse) must meet certain income and asset limits. The asset limits aren’t specified, but $80,000 is the amount usually used. However, unlike with the Medicaid program, there historically have been no penalties if an applicant divests him- or herself of assets before applying. That is, before now you could transfer assets over the VA’s limit before applying for benefits and the transfers would not affect eligibility.

Not so anymore. The new regulations set a net worth limit of $123,600, which is the current maximum amount of assets (in 2018) that a Medicaid applicant’s spouse is allowed to retain. But in the case of the VA, this number will include both the applicant’s assets and income. It will be indexed to inflation in the same way that Social Security increases. An applicant’s house (up to a two-acre lot) will not count as an asset even if the applicant is currently living in a nursing home. Applicants will also be able to deduct medical expenses — now including payments to assisted living facilities, as a result of the new rules — from their income.

The regulations also establish a three-year look-back provision. Applicants will have to disclose all financial transactions they were involved in for three years before the application. Applicants who transferred assets to put themselves below the net worth limit within three years of applying for benefits will be subject to a penalty period that can last as long as five years. This penalty is a period of time during which the person who transferred assets is not eligible for VA benefits. There are exceptions to the penalty period for fraudulent transfers and for transfers to a trust for a child who is unable to “self-support.”

Under the new rules, the VA will determine a penalty period in months by dividing the amount transferred that would have put the applicant over the net worth limit by the maximum annual pension rate (MAPR) for a veteran with one dependent in need of aid and attendance. For example, assume the net worth limit is $123,600 and an applicant has a net worth of $115,000. The applicant transferred $30,000 to a friend during the look-back period. If the applicant had not transferred the $30,000, his net worth would have been $145,000, which exceeds the net worth limit by $21,400. The penalty period will be calculated based on $21,400, the amount the applicant transferred that put his assets over the net worth limit (145,000-123,600).

The new rules go into effect on October 18, 2018. The VA will disregard asset transfers made before that date. Applicants may still have time to get through the process before the rules are in place.

Veterans or their spouses who think they may be affected by the new rules should contact their MSW attorneys as soon as possible. 

To read the new regulations, click here.

It’s Important to Shop Around for Your Medigap Policy

Medigap premiums can vary widely depending on the insurance company, according to a new study, so be sure to shop around before choosing a policy.

When you first become eligible for Medicare, you may purchase a Medigap policy from a private insurer to supplement Medicare’s coverage and plug some or virtually all of Medicare’s coverage gaps. You can currently choose one of 10 Medigap plans that are identified by letters A, B, C, D, F, G, K, L, M, and N. Each plan package offers a different combination of benefits, allowing purchasers to choose the combination that is right for them. Federal law requires that insurers must offer the same benefits for each lettered plan, so each plan C offered by one insurer must cover the same benefits as plan C offered by another insurer.

When choosing a plan, you need to take into account the different benefits each plan offers as well as the price for each plan. To make things more difficult, the premiums for a particular plan can vary widely, according to an analysis by Weiss Ratings, Inc., consumer-oriented company that assesses insurance companies’ financial stability, and recently reported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Weiss Ratings compared Medigap premiums in each zip code nationwide and found huge disparities. For example, a 65-year-old man who lives in Hartford, Connecticut, can buy a Plan F policy for anywhere between $2,900 and $7,400 annually. A 65-year-old woman in Houston can pay $5,300 a year for Medigap’s Plan C policy from one insurance company or she can buy exactly the same policy from another insurer for $1,700 a year.

When looking for a Medigap policy, make sure to get quotes from several insurance companies to find the best price. In addition, if you are going through a broker, check with two or more brokers because each broker might not represent every insurer. It can be hard work to shop around, but the price savings can be worth it.

Learn more from your MSW attorneys.

Don’t Wait Too Long to Purchase Long-Term Care Insurance

The older you get, the harder it is to qualify for long-term care insurance. If you are interested in buying this insurance, it is better to act sooner rather than later.

Many people put off purchasing long-term care insurance until they need it, but by then, it may be too late. Not only do premiums increase as you age, you also may not even qualify for insurance due to your health. The older you are, the more likely you are to have a pre-existing health condition that will disqualify you from getting long-term care insurance.

According to a recent study by the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, 44 percent of applicants who were age 70 or older had their applications denied due to health reasons. And those are the applicants who completed applications. Insurance agents frequently discourage unhealthy applicants from applying in the first place.

In contrast to older applicants, only 22 percent of applicants who are between 50 and 59 years old and 30 percent of applicants between 60 and 69 years old had their applications declined. Generally, the best (and cheapest) time to buy long-term care insurance is when you are in your 50s.

Long-term care insurance is not the best option for everyone, but if you are thinking about it, don’t put off the purchase until it is too late. To find out if a long-term care insurance policy fits into your long-term care plan, consult with your attorneys at MSW.

How Long Will You Live? Four Life Expectancy Calculators

How much you need for retirement depends a great deal on how long you expect to live. There are now many Web-based calculators that can give you an idea of your life expectancy based on your current age, gender, family health history, smoking and drinking habits, exercise patterns, stress level, and other important lifestyle choices.

Here are four life expectancy calculators that we have identified as particularly detailed (although we cannot yet vouch for their accuracy!). Most require you to sign up with an email and a password before sharing the results. Click on each site name below to access the calculators.

Living to 100

LifeSpan Calculator from Northwestern Mutual

MetLife Longevity Calculator

BlueZones True Vitality Test

 

Aretha Franklin’s Lack of a Will Could Cause Huge Problems

According to court documents, legendary singer Aretha Franklin did not have a will when she died, opening up her estate to public scrutiny and potential problems. Failing to create an estate plan can cause lots of headaches for heirs, in addition to unnecessary costs.

Franklin, who died August 16, 2018, at age 76, left behind four sons, but no guidance on how to distribute her reported $80 million estate. According to The New York Times, her sons filed paperwork in Oakland County, Michigan, indicating that she died intestate — that is, without a will. The sons nominated Franklin’s niece to serve as the personal representative of the estate. When someone dies without a will, the estate is divided according to state law. Under Michigan law, an unmarried decedent’s estate is distributed to his or her children. (Franklin had been married twice but long since divorced.)

Even if the “Queen of Soul” had wanted her estate to go solely to her children, by not having a will or trust, her estate will have to go through a long public probate process, which will likely cost her estate considerable money. If Franklin, who was quite private in life, had created an estate plan that included a will and a trust, she could have avoided probate and kept the details of her financial circumstances private.  Her eldest son reportedly has special needs, which presents other potential complications.  In addition, by not having a will, Franklin has opened her estate up to potential challenges that could drag out the probate process. Without a will to clearly state the decedent’s intent, litigation resulting from family conflicts often eats into estates.

Also, because Franklin did not plan her estate, the estate will be subject to unnecessary estate taxation. Although she may not have been able to avoid estate tax entirely, there are steps she could have taken to reduce the amount her estate will have to pay.

“I was after her for a number of years to do a trust,” attorney Don Wilson, who represented Franklin in entertainment matters for the past 28 years, told the Detroit Free Press. “It would have expedited things and kept them out of probate, and kept things private.”

Estate planning is important even if you don’t have Aretha Franklin’s assets. It allows you, while you are still living, to ensure that your property will go to the people you want, in the way you want, and when you want. It permits you to save as much as possible on taxes, court costs, and attorneys’ fees; and it affords the comfort that your loved ones can mourn your loss without being simultaneously burdened with unnecessary red tape and financial confusion.

Contact your attorneys at MSW to begin working on your estate plan now.

 

Fear of Losing Home to Medicaid Contributed to Elder Abuse Case

A California daughter and granddaughter’s fear of losing their home to Medicaid may have contributed to a severe case of elder abuse. If the pair had consulted with an elder law attorney, they might have figured out a way to get their mother the care she needed and also protect their house.

Amanda Havens was sentenced to 17 years in prison for elder abuse after her grandmother, Dorothy Havens, was found neglected, with bedsores and open wounds, in the home they shared.  The grandmother died the day after being discovered by authorities.  Amanda’s mother, Kathryn Havens, who also lived with Dorothy, is awaiting trial for second-degree murder. According to an article in the Record Searchlight, a local publication, Amanda and Kathryn knew Dorothy needed full-time care, but they did not apply for Medicaid on her behalf due to a fear that Medicaid would “take” the house.

It is a common misconception that the state will immediately take a Medicaid recipient’s home. Nursing home residents do not automatically have to sell their homes in order to qualify for Medicaid. In some states, the home will not be considered a countable asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes as long as the nursing home resident intends to return home; in other states, the nursing home resident must prove a likelihood of returning home. The state may place a lien on the home, which means that if the home is sold, the Medicaid recipient would have to pay back the state for the amount of the lien.

After a Medicaid recipient dies, the state may attempt to recover Medicaid payments from the recipient’s estate, which means the house would likely need to be sold. But there are things Medicaid recipients and their families can do to protect the home.

A Medicaid applicant can transfer the house to the following individuals and still be eligible for Medicaid:

  • The applicant’s 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.

In addition, with a little advance planning, there are other ways to protect a house. A life estate can let a Medicaid applicant continue to live in the home, but allows the property to pass outside of probate to the applicant’s beneficiaries. Certain trusts can also protect a house from estate recovery.

The moral is: Don’t let a fear of Medicaid prevent you from getting your loved one the care they need. While the thought of losing a home is scary, there are things you can do to protect the house. To find out the best solution for you, consult with your attorneys at MSW.

To read the Record Searchlight article about the case, click here.

 

Promissory Notes and Medicaid

A promissory note is normally given in return for a loan and it is simply a promise to repay the amount. Classifying asset transfers as loans rather than gifts can be useful because it sometimes allows parents to “lend” assets to their children and still maintain Medicaid eligibility.

Before Congress enacted the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) in 2006, a Medicaid applicant could show that a transaction was a loan to another person rather than gift by presenting promissory notes, loans, or mortgages at the time of the Medicaid application. The loan would not be counted among the applicant’s assets, unlike a gift. Congress considered this to be an abusive planning strategy, so the DRA imposed restrictions on the use of promissory notes, loans, and mortgages.

In order for a loan to not be treated as a transfer for less than fair market value (and therefore not to interfere with Medicaid eligibility) it must satisfy three standards: (1) the term of the loan must not last longer than the anticipated life of the lender, (2) payments must be made in equal amounts during the term of the loan with no deferral of payments and no balloon payments, (3) and the debt cannot be cancelled at the death of the lender. If these three standards are not met, the outstanding balance on the promissory note, loan, or mortgage will be considered a transfer and used to assess a Medicaid penalty period.

It’s good practice when lending money to use a promissory note, whether or not the loan is related to Medicaid. To learn more about using promissory notes in Medicaid planning, contact your elder law attorney.

 

 

 

 

 

Proposed New Medicare Payment System May Affect Beneficiaries

Medicare is proposing a new flat rate reimbursement system for doctors who treat Medicare patients. Some worry that the plan may reduce payments to specialists and cause fewer doctors to accept Medicare patients.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) says the proposed changes are designed to reduce paperwork by combining four levels of forms required for reimbursement into one form and one fee paid to doctors. Under the new system, doctors who see generally healthy patients and doctors who see more complicated patients would receive the same flat fee. According to a report by NPR, the flat fee would mean doctors who specialize in complex medical areas would receive a smaller reimbursement than under the current system. Doctors would receive the same amount regardless of whether they spent 15 minutes with a patient complaining of a head cold or an hour with a patient with stage 4 cancer.

As NPR reports, doctors are worried the new payment system will cause more specialists to refuse to see Medicare patients. In addition, doctors who do see Medicare patients may spend less time with them. And the implications extend beyond Medicare because private insurers often follow Medicare’s lead.

Due to the possible implications of the flat fee, advocates are asking CMS to start with a demonstration project rather than changing the entire reimbursement system for all physicians at once.

CMS is accepting public comments until September 10, 2018. The new fee structure would go into effect in January 2019.

For more information about the proposed changes, click here and here.