Category : News

The Attorney’s Role in Medicaid Planning

Do you need an attorney for even “simple” Medicaid planning? This depends on your situation, but in most cases, the prudent answer would be “yes.”

The social worker at your mother’s nursing home assigned to assist in preparing a Medicaid application for your mother knows a lot about the program, but maybe not the particular rule that applies in your case or the newest changes in the law. In addition, by the time you’re applying for Medicaid, you may have missed out on significant planning opportunities.

The best bet is to consult with a qualified professional who can advise you on the entire situation. At the very least, the price of the consultation should purchase some peace of mind. And what you learn can mean significant financial savings or better care for you or your loved one. This may involve the use of trusts, transfers of assets, purchase of annuities or increased income and resource allowances for the healthy spouse.

If you are going to consult with a qualified professional, the sooner the better. If you wait, it may be too late to take some steps available to preserve your assets.

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

Can You Visit Nursing Home Residents After They are Vaccinated?

COVID vaccines are starting to roll out to nursing homes across the country, signaling the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Once your loved one has had both doses of the vaccine, you may be able to visit, but precautions are still necessary.

The federal government entered into a partnership with CVS and Walgreens to deliver the vaccines to nursing home residents, who have high priority for being vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. The pharmacy companies began administering vaccines in 12 states in mid-December and will expand to 36 states before year’s end. Both the Pfizer the Moderna vaccines require two shots three or four weeks apart.

Restrictions on nursing home visitors vary from state to state, with some states limiting them and others allowing more visitation. Currently, the CDC recommends that nursing homes allow indoor visitors if the facility has had no COVID cases for 14 days. Once vaccines have been distributed, restrictions may ease further.

According to the New York Times, experts recommend that to be safe, you should wait until two weeks after your loved one gets the second dose of the vaccine before visiting. The safest time to visit would be after all the residents and staff have been vaccinated and you receive the vaccine as well. Even if you and your loved one are vaccinated, you should still wear a mask when visiting. As long as COVID is spreading in the community, mask wearing is still recommended.

Noting that the vast majority of older adults with chronic conditions live at home, long-term care consultant Howard Gleckman asserts that these vulnerable adults along with their caregivers should also be vaccinated as soon as possible.  As states ration their limited initial supplies of the vaccines, Gleckman says, “they should remember the millions of people who are at high risk of severe illness or death from the virus, but who are living at home.”

For more information about the vaccine rollout to nursing homes, click here and here.

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

Five Reasons to Have a Will

Your will is a legally-binding statement directing who will receive your property at your death. It also appoints a legal representative to carry out your wishes. However, the will covers only probate property. (Probate is the court process by which a deceased person’s property is passed to his or her heirs and people named in the will.) Many types of property or forms of ownership pass outside of probate. Jointly-owned property, property in trust, life insurance proceeds and property with a named beneficiary, such as IRAs or 401(k) plans, all pass outside of probate

Why should you have a will? Here are some reasons:

  1. With a will you can direct where and to whom your estate (what you own) will go after your death. If you died intestate (without a will), your estate would be distributed according to your state’s law. Such distribution may or may not accord with your wishes. Many people try to avoid probate and the need for a will by holding all of their property jointly with their children. This can work, but often people spend unnecessary effort trying to make sure all the joint accounts remain equally distributed among their children. These efforts can be defeated by a long-term illness of the parent or the death of a child. A will can be a much simpler means of carrying out one’s wishes about how assets should be distributed.
  2. Wills make the administration of your estate run smoothly. Often the probate process can be completed more quickly and at less expense to your estate if there is a will. With a clear expression of your wishes, there are unlikely to be any costly, time-consuming disputes over who gets what.
  3. Your will is the only way to choose the person to administer your estate and distribute it according to your instructions. This person is called your “executor” (or “executrix” if you appoint a woman) or “personal representative,” depending on your state’s statute. If you do not have a will naming him or her, the court will make the choice for you. Usually the court appoints the first person to ask for the post, whoever that may be.
  4. For larger estates, a well-planned will can help reduce estate taxes.
  5. A will allows you to appoint who will take your place as guardian of your minor children should both you and their other parent both pass away.

Filling out a worksheet will help you make decisions about what to put in your will. Bring it and any additional notes to your lawyer and he or she will be able to efficiently prepare a will that meets your needs and desires.

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

 

Using Life Insurance as Part of Your Estate Plan

Life insurance can play a few key roles in an estate plan, depending on your age and situation in life.

There are two main types of life insurance: term and permanent. Term life insurance is the simplest: You buy a policy for a set number of years and you have coverage with a death benefit if you die during that period. Permanent life insurance policies provide coverage for life (or for as long as you pay premiums). In addition to paying a death benefit, the policy builds a cash value, which can be used as collateral for a loan or withdrawn from the account. “Whole life,” “universal life,” “variable life” and “variable universal life” are different types of permanent insurance.

When children are young, life insurance can provide funds to a surviving spouse and children to help make up for lost income and pay for schooling. Typically, a term life insurance policy will work well for this purpose.

Once you retire, you may no longer need life insurance. If your spouse or other dependents won’t lose any income when you die, life insurance may not be necessary and your premiums may be better spent on other things. However, more and more people are carrying debt into retirement. In this case, a life insurance policy can be used to pay off that debt once you die. This may allow your heirs to keep a house that might otherwise have to be sold to pay off the debt. Life insurance can also be used to pay off an outstanding mortgage.

It may better to have a permanent life policy in retirement because the cash value can be used to provide income to the retirees or to pay long-term care costs. There are also hybrid long-term care insurance and life insurance products that can be used for this purpose.

Because life insurance passes outside of probate, it can also provide heirs needed funds more quickly than assets passing through probate. Life insurance can be used to pay for funerals and other final expenses. While most families do not have to pay federal estate tax, life insurance can be used to pay state estate taxes.

To make sure you use life insurance effectively as part of your estate plan, you should consult with your attorney.

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

Medicare Premiums to Increase Slightly in 2021

Medicare premiums are set to rise a modest amount next year, but still cut into any Social Security gains. The basic monthly premium will increase $3.90, from $144.60 a month to $148.50.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the premium and other Medicare cost increases on November 6, 2020. The hike could have been much worse due to rising costs during the coronavirus pandemic, but the bipartisan budget bill passed in October capped the increase. While the majority of beneficiaries will pay the added amount, a “hold harmless” rule prevents Medicare recipients’ premiums from increasing more than Social Security benefits, which are going up only 1.3 percent in 2021. This “hold harmless” provision does not apply to Medicare beneficiaries who are enrolled in Medicare but who are not yet receiving Social Security, new Medicare beneficiaries, seniors earning more than $88,000 a year, and “dual eligibles” who get both Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

Meanwhile, the Part B deductible will rise from $198 to $203 in 2021, while the Part A deductible will go up by $76, to $1,484. For beneficiaries receiving skilled care in a nursing home, Medicare’s coinsurance for days 21-100 will increase from $176 to $185.50. Medicare coverage ends after day 100.

Here are all the new Medicare payment figures:
•    Part B premium: $148.50 (was $144.60)
•    Part B deductible: $203 (was $198)
•    Part A deductible: $1,484 (was $1,408)
•    Co-payment for hospital stay days 61-90: $371/day (was $352)
•    Co-payment for hospital stay days 91 and beyond: $742/day (was $704)
•    Skilled nursing facility co-payment, days 21-100: $185.50/day (was $176)

So-called “Medigap” policies can cover some of these costs.

Premiums for higher-income beneficiaries ($88,000 and above) are as follows:

  • Individuals with annual incomes between $88,000 and $111,000 and married couples with annual incomes between $176,000 and $222,000 will pay a monthly premium of $207.90.
  • Individuals with annual incomes between $111,000 and $138,000 and married couples with annual incomes between $222,000 and $276,000 will pay a monthly premium of $297.
  • Individuals with annual incomes between $138,000 and $165,000 and married couples with annual incomes between $276,000 and $330,000 will pay a monthly premium of $386.10.
  • Individuals with annual incomes above $165,000 and less than $500,000 and married couples with annual incomes above $330,000 and less than $750,000 will pay a monthly premium of $475.20.
  • Individuals with annual incomes above $500,000 and married couples with annual incomes above $750,000 will pay a monthly premium of $504.90.

Rates differ for beneficiaries who are married but file a separate tax return from their spouse. Those with incomes greater than $88,000 and less than $412,000 will pay a monthly premium of $475.20. Those with incomes greater than $412,000 will pay a monthly premium of $504.90.

The Social Security Administration uses the income reported two years ago to determine a Part B beneficiary’s premium. So the income reported on a beneficiary’s 2019 tax return is used to determine whether the beneficiary must pay a higher monthly Part B premium in 2021. Income is calculated by taking a beneficiary’s adjusted gross income and adding back in some normally excluded income, such as tax-exempt interest, U.S. savings bond interest used to pay tuition, and certain income from foreign sources. This is called modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). If a beneficiary’s MAGI decreased significantly in the past two years, she may request that information from more recent years be used to calculate the premium. You can also request to reverse a surcharge if your income changes.

Those who enroll in Medicare Advantage plans may have different cost-sharing arrangements. CMS estimates that the Medicare Advantage average monthly premium will decrease by 11 percent in 2021, from an average of $23.63 in 2020 to $21 in 2021.

For Medicare’s press release announcing the new premium, co-payment and deductible amounts, click here.

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

Watch Out for These Potential Problems with Life Estates

Life estates can be an excellent tool for Medicaid planning, probate avoidance and tax efficiency, but there are potential problems to look out for. Knowing the implications and risks of a life estate is essential in determining whether it is appropriate for your situation.

In a life estate, two or more people each have an ownership interest in a property, but for different periods of time. The person holding the life estate — the life tenant — possesses the property during his or her life. The other owner — the remainderman — has a current ownership interest but cannot take possession until the death of the life estate holder. The life tenant has full control of the property during his or her lifetime and has the legal responsibility to maintain the property as well as the right to use it, rent it out, and make improvements to it.

Life estates are excellent planning techniques in many circumstances. They permit parents to pass ownership in their homes to their children while retaining absolute possession of the property during their lives. By executing a life estate deed, the property avoids probate at the parents’ deaths, is protected from a Medicaid lien, and receives a step-up in tax basis.

However, there are potential issues that may arise with life estates and it’s important to fully understand the following risks:

  • As a life tenant, you may not easily sell or mortgage property with a life estate interest. The remaindermen must all agree if you decide to sell or borrow against the property. One thing that can help is a testamentary power of appointment in the deed. This is a mechanism that permits the life tenants to change who ultimately receives the property by directing its disposition in their wills. It won’t allow the life tenant to sell the property, but it does give the life tenant more bargaining power with the remaindermen. Another option is a nominee realty trust. This type of trust permits one or more children to act as trustee or trustees for all the children, and provides that they must follow the direction of a majority of the beneficiaries. So, if there are four children and one child objects to the sale or mortgage of the property, but the other three are on board, the majority can direct the trustee to sign the papers necessary to facilitate the sale or borrowing.
  • If the property is sold, the remaindermen are entitled to a share of the proceeds equal to what their interest is determined to be at that time.
  • It is not as easy to remove or change a name once it is on a deed to real estate as it is to change the beneficiary on a life insurance policy or bank account.
  • Once a remainderman is named on the deed to your house, he or she has an interest in the home and his or her legal problems could become yours. For example, if your child, who is a remainderman, is sued or owes taxes, a lien could be filed against your home. Your child’s interest in the home is not protected if he or she files for bankruptcy. If your child gets a divorce, his or her spouse could claim all or part of your child’s interest in your home. Should your child die before you do, the child’s estate would have to go through probate unless at least one other remainderman was listed as a joint tenant. However, while these claims may be made against the property, no one can kick you out of it during your life.
  • Giving away an interest in property could disqualify you from receiving assistance from Medicaid, should you require long-term care within five years of the transfer. In addition, if you and the remaindermen were to sell the property while you were in a nursing home, the state could have a claim against your share of the proceeds for payments it has made on your behalf, but the share of the proceeds allocated to your children would be protected.

As with most planning tools, a life estate can be very useful with valuable benefits, but it is not for everyone. In many cases, the potential problems outweigh the benefits. As the law in this area is complex, it’s important to talk to a lawyer who knows about this in-depth.

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

Special Tax Deduction for 2020 Allows Donations of $300 to Charity Without Itemizing

As we enter the giving season, there is an additional reason to be charitable. Congress enacted a special provision that allows more people to easily deduct up to $300 in donations to qualifying charities this year.

Since the increase in the standard income tax deduction in 2018, only 11 percent of taxpayers itemize deductions, so fewer taxpayers take advantage of the charitable deduction. But to both encourage and reward giving in this difficult year, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act Congress created a one-time $300 charitable deduction for people who do not itemize on their tax returns. To qualify, you must give cash (including paying by check or credit card) to a 501(c)(3) charity. Gifts of goods or stock do not qualify.

While $300 may not seem like much, it can make a big difference to smaller charities. And a lot of $300 gifts can add up.  One thing that’s not clear is whether a married couple filing jointly can deduct $600. While it’s logical that they should be able to do so, the IRS has not clarified this yet. With just four weeks left in the year, time is a-wasting.

Here are some places you might take a look at to determine which charity you would like to support before the end of the year:

For more information from the IRS about the tax deduction, click here.

Or, contact Amy Stratton or Kristen Prull Moonan.

Annuities and Medicaid Planning

In some circumstances, immediate annuities can be ideal Medicaid planning tools for spouses of nursing home residents. Careful planning is needed to make sure an annuity will work for you or your spouse.

An immediate annuity, in its simplest form, is a contract with an insurance company under which the consumer pays a certain amount of money to the company and the company sends the consumer a monthly check for the rest of his or her life.

In most states the purchase of an annuity is not considered to be a transfer for purposes of eligibility for Medicaid, but is instead the purchase of an investment. It transforms otherwise countable assets into a non-countable income stream. As long as the income is in the name of the community spouse, it’s not a problem.

In order for the annuity purchase not to be considered a transfer, it must meet the following basic requirements:

  1. It must be irrevocable–you cannot have the right to take the funds out of the annuity except through the monthly payments.
  2. You must receive back at least what you paid into the annuity during your actuarial life expectancy. For instance, if you have an actuarial life expectancy of 10 years, and you pay $60,000 for an annuity, you must receive annuity payments of at least $500 a month ($500 x 12 x 10 = $60,000).
  3. If you purchase an annuity with a term certain (see below), it must be shorter than your actuarial life expectancy.
  4. The state must be named the remainder beneficiary up to the amount of Medicaid paid on the annuitant’s behalf.

Example: Mrs. Jones, the community spouse, lives in a state where the most money she can keep for herself and still have Mr. Jones, who is in a nursing home, qualify for Medicaid (her maximum resource allowance) is $128,640 (in 2020). However, Mrs. Jones has $238,640 in countable assets. She can take the difference of $110,000 and purchase an annuity, making her husband in the nursing home immediately eligible for Medicaid. She would continue to receive the annuity check each month for the rest of her life.

In most instances, the purchase of an annuity should wait until the unhealthy spouse moves to a nursing home. In addition, if the annuity has a term certain — a guaranteed number of payments no matter the lifespan of the annuitant — the term must be shorter than the life expectancy of the healthy spouse. Further, if the community spouse does die with guaranteed payments remaining on the annuity, they must be payable to the state for reimbursement up to the amount of the Medicaid paid for either spouse.

All annuities must be disclosed by an applicant for Medicaid regardless of whether the annuity is irrevocable or treated as a countable asset. If an individual, spouse, or representative refuses to disclose sufficient information related to any annuity, the state must either deny or terminate coverage for long-term care services or else deny or terminate Medicaid eligibility.

Annuities are of less benefit for a single individual in a nursing home because he or she would have to pay the monthly income from the annuity to the nursing home. However, in some states immediate annuities may have a place for single individuals who are considering transferring assets. Income from an annuity can be used to help pay for long-term care during the Medicaid penalty period that results from the transfer. In such cases, the annuity is usually short-term, just long enough to cover the penalty period.

In short, immediate annuities are a very powerful tool in the right circumstances. They must also be distinguished from deferred annuities, which have no Medicaid planning purpose. The use of immediate annuities as a Medicaid planning tool is under attack in some states, so be sure to consult with a your attorney before pursuing the strategy described above.

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

 

The Hazards of Do-it-Yourself Estate Planning

Many websites offer customized, do-it-yourself wills and other estate planning documents.  Although such products are convenient, using them could create serious and expensive legal problems for heirs.

These digital services appear to offer a cost-effective and easy alternative to visiting an estate planning or elder law attorney. But is online estate planning worth the convenience and initial savings? While online services might work fine if you have little or no property, small savings or investments, and a traditional family tree, anyone whose needs are not simple should not try to create an estate plan without the help of an attorney.

And you’ll likely need a lawyer to definitively determine whether or not your needs are indeed simple. Do you have an estate that is taxable under state or federal law? Do you own significant amounts of tax-deferred retirement plans? Do you know how to fund a revocable trust? Is there anything about your estate that is unusual, such as having children from a previous marriage or a disabled child? If you have any questions about your estate plan, you need to see a professional.

The following are some examples of what can happen if you try to create an estate plan without the help of an attorney:

  • Using an online generic will, a Florida woman listed several possessions and bank accounts that she intended to go to her brother. After writing the will, the woman inherited additional money and property. However, the woman did not have a “residuary clause” in the original will to say where additional assets should go, and she never revised the will to account for this new property. After she died, her brother argued he should be entitled to her entire estate, but her nieces argued the estate should pass intestate (under the laws of her state as if she had died without a will). The court ruled that because the will had no residuary clause or general bequests that could include the inherited property, the after-acquired property would pass under Florida’s laws of intestacy. This meant the brother was not the sole beneficiary. Aldrich v. Basile (Fla., No. SC11-2147, March 27, 2014)
  • A Massachusetts man used a pre-packaged will form to leave his home to his wife and his four grown children, the product of an earlier marriage. The problem was that the will didn’t give the wife the option to remain in the house for the rest of her life.  A court case ensued because the children, who possessed the majority interest in the property, could have legally forced the wife to move.
  • A Pennsylvania man wanted his estate to go to only two of his five children. He wrote his own will, giving his pickup truck to his daughter and his summer house to his son. He also wrote in the will that he was intentionally leaving out his other three children. The problem was that the man did not specify what to do with the remainder of his estate. He died leaving an estate of $217,000. While he probably intended for that money to go to the two children he didn’t disinherit, because the will had no residuary clause, the remainder of the man’s estate passed under the state law that specifies who inherits when there is no will. This meant the estate was divided between all five children. (In Re: Estate of George Zeevering, No. 316-2012, Nov. 7, 2012)
  • The company LegalZoom, one of the most prominent sellers of do-it-yourself wills and other estate planning documents, settled a class action lawsuit brought an unhappy customer in California. A niece helped her uncle prepare a will and trust using LegalZoom. The niece believed that the documents they created would be legally binding and that if they encountered any problems, the company’s customer service department would resolve them. The niece could not transfer any of her uncle’s assets into the trust because the financial institutions that held his money refused to accept the LegalZoom documents as valid. She had to hire an estate planning attorney to fix the problems, and the attorney also discovered that the will LegalZoom created had not been properly witnessed. All this cost the uncle’s estate thousands of dollars. (Webster v. LegalZoom Inc., No. BC438637, Oct. 1, 2014)

The irony is that using a boilerplate will form in these cases not only frustrated the decedents’ testamentary intent, but ultimately cost their estates far more than a simple consultation with an estate planning or elder law attorney would have.

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

 

Don’t Forget to Fund Your Revocable Trust

Revocable trusts are a very popular and useful estate planning tool. But the trust will be ineffective if you do not actually place your assets in the trust.

Revocable trusts are an effective way to avoid probate and provide for asset management in the event of incapacity. In addition, revocable trusts — sometimes called “living” trusts — are incredibly flexible and can achieve many other goals, including tax, long-term care, and asset-protection planning.

However, you can’t take advantage of what the trust has to offer if you don’t place your assets into it. If you don’t fund the trust, your assets may have to go through a costly probate proceeding or be distributed to beneficiaries you did not intend. Not funding your trust can undermine your whole estate plan.

To transfer assets to the trust, whether real estate, bank accounts, or investment accounts, you need to retitle the assets in the name of the trust. To place bank and investment accounts into your trust, you need to retitle them as follows: “[your name and co-trustee’s name] as Trustees of [trust name] Revocable Trust created by agreement dated [date].” Depending on the institution, you might be able to change the name on an existing account. Otherwise you will need to open a new account in the name of the trust and then transfer the funds. The financial institution will probably require a copy of the trust, or at least of the first page and the signature page, as well as signatures of all the trustees. As long as you are serving as your own trustee or co-trustee, you can use your Social Security number for the trust. If you are not a trustee, the trust will have to obtain a separate tax identification number and file a separate 1041 tax return each year. You will still be taxed on all of the income and the trust will pay no separate tax.

If you are placing real estate into the trust, you should consult with your attorney to ensure it is done correctly. You should also consult with your attorney before placing life insurance or annuities into a revocable trust. And consult with your attorney before naming the trust as the beneficiary of your IRAs or 401(k) because that could have tax consequence.

Once your trust is fully funded, don’t forget about it. When you acquire new assets, do not forget to add them to the trust. You should review your trust annually to make sure everything is titled properly.

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