Tag Archives: Elder Law Blogs & News

A Mixed Bag in Virginia: Federal Law Prohibits 2011 Social Security Increases, but Federal Agency Grants Millions to Disadvantaged Groups

Written by Evan Farr

As Halloween approaches this year, I can’t help but draw an analogy between the nights I spent meandering my neighborhood as a kid looking for handouts, and our current economic times.  I recall my grade-school friends and I operating our minds at their collective capacities, as we planned the best streets to target and the best routes to take to get from house to house most efficiently. Some of the parents surpassed expectations and gave out the good stuff — like king size candy bars! Others doled out the less-desirable treats, such as candy corns, smarties, or the dreaded raisins.  Some neighbors, when they were gone for the evening, left out giant bowls of candy for us trick-or-treaters to help ourselves.  Other neighbors were always gone, and their houses completely dark.  But fortunately for us candy-loving kids, most or our neighbors participated in the fun of Halloween. In fact, many of our neighbors offered a variety of different candy to choose from each year.  We never knew how much candy we’d wind up with at the end of the night, or how much of the “good stuff” we’d have in our bag.

Similar to the unpredictability of household Halloween generosity encountered by children, the Federal Government is providing the public with what can appropriately be called a “mixed bag” of economic solutions. It might just depend on what house, or rather, what state you live in.

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income recipients will not receive an increase in 2011 because there has been no increase in the federal Consumer Price Index.  Read the Social Security News Release Here (released October 15, 2010).

Though the federal Social Security Administration is not able to provide an increase for its beneficiaries because of long-standing federal law that ties Social Security and Supplemental Security to the Consumer Price Index, other federal agencies, and some state agencies, are doing what they can to help alleviate the financial struggles of the elderly and disabled.

One prime example:  the federal Administration on Aging and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (both part of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services) recently awarded more than $2 million in grant funding to the Virginia Department for the Aging and the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, the latter being the Virginia agency that runs our state’s Medicaid system.   Read the Commonwealth of Virginia Press Release Here (released October 6, 2010).

This grant funding to Virginia’s Medicaid system comes with high hopes and great expectations. The over $2 million in funding will be used to bolster services for two key underprivileged groups – the elderly and the disabled – by alleviating burdens in the following areas:

•    Prescription drug coverage
•    Long-term care services
•    Transition support from nursing homes to community based services
•    In-home support services for sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease

In providing these much-needed funds to Virginia for the improvement of Virginia’s Medicaid program and the development of additional services for the elderly and the disabled, the Federal Government has demonstrated its continuing commitment to improving and strengthening the Medicaid system throughout the United States.  As Senator Rockefeller wrote in 2005, on the 40th anniversary of the Medicaid program,  ”taking care of our most vulnerable people is a moral obligation . . . our representative democracy has a responsibility to do for the future what we have repeatedly done in the past: protect, preserve, and strengthen Medicaid.”

Medicaid is what pays for the vast majority of nursing home care in the United States. With both the Federal Governemtn and the Virginia State Goverment now strenghtening the Medicaid program, smart long-term care planning (i.e., Medicaid Asset Protection Planning) has never been as important as it is now. According to the Virginia Department for the Aging, the population of elderly adults in Virginia will double in less than 20 years — to the point where one in five residents of Virginia is expected to be aged 65 or older.

A statistic I cited in a previous article demonstrates the importance of Medicaid Asset Protection Planning — about 70% of Americans who live to age 65 will wind up needing long-term care at some point in their lives.  For the more than 40% who will require long-term placement in a nursing home, the cost of such care will be financially devastating without a smart Medicaid Asset Protection Plan focused on structuring assets in a way that protects those assets while allowing earlier Medicaid eligibility.

For most seniors over age 65, Medicaid is the equivalent of government-subsidized long-term care insurance, just as Medicare is governement-subsidized health insurance.  But remember — the fact that Medicaid is “government-subsidized” does not mean that it’s a “handout.” On the contrary, it’s your tax dollars that fund the Medicaid program, just as it’s your tax dollars that fund Medicare.  It’s also important to note that the Federal Government and Virginia State Government both encourage Americans to engage in smart Medicaid Asset Protection Planning — for example:  there are laws that protect spouses of nursing home residents; there are laws that encourage Americans to engage in Medicaid Asset Protection by purchasing Long-Term Care Insurance “Partnership” policies; there are laws that allow the exemption of certain types of assets when applying for Medicaid; there are laws that permit individuals to qualify for Medicaid even after transferring assets to a spouse, or to a disabled family member, or to a caregiver child.  To smartly plan and protect assets while accelerating qualification for Medicaid is no different than planning ahead to maximize your income tax deductions in order to minimize your income taxes.   It is no different than taking advantage of tax-free municipal bonds.  It is no different than planning your estate to avoid estate taxes (which, incidentally, a lot more people are going to be doing again next year when the Federal Estate Tax returns with a vengeance – with an Exemption Equivalent Amount of only $1 million – but that’s for another article . . . ).

At a time when much federal spending leads to controversy, Medicaid is an example of the government legitimately promoting the best interests of society.  Similar to how my mom always made sure I ate a well-balanced dinner before embarking upon my annual October 31st sugar binge, our Federal Government and State Government are truly looking after the citizens of America (even in these gloomy economic times) by directing funds to programs that benefit and protect our most fragile citizens — the elderly and disabled.

The Farr Law Firm specializes in Family Protection Planning (i.e., Estate Planning, Incapacity Planning, and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning), and we are here to help you.  If you have not yet done your Family Protection Planning, I encourage you to call us to take advantage of a free consultation to determine the planning solution that’s best for you and your family.

Huge Problem with Reverse Mortgage Industry

Written by Evan Farr

I Used to Like Reverse Mortgages.

I have, in the past, praised the use of Reverse Mortgages as a way for seniors to pay for Home Care so they don’t need to leave their home and move into a long-term care facility.  See, for example, my January 30th, 2010 blog posting on this subject at:  
http://blog.virginiaelderlaw.com/2010/01/using-reverse-mortgages-to-pay-for-home-care/
 

Now I Don’t.

Unfortunately, I must now retract my praise, as we have lately been running into a huge problem with the reverse mortgage industry.  It seems that most, if not all, reverse mortgage lenders are now routinely second-guessing the legitimacy of every Power of Attorney document (POA) presented for use in connection with obtaining a reverse mortgage, creating an unnecessary and sometimes insurmountable roadblock for elderly clients who are incapacitated and need a reverse mortgage to be able to afford the home care or home modifications necessary to remain at home and age in place. 

Here’s Why.

Here’s what’s happened to two of my clients recently, using two different reverse mortgage lenders:  when the Agent under POA tried to commence the reverse mortgage application process, the reverse mortgage lenders refused to honor the POA unless the Agent (1) obtained a letter from the applicant’s doctor or former doctor stating that the applicant was mentally competent when the POA was originally signed (i.e., a ”competency letter”) AND (2) a letter from the applicant’s doctor stating that the applicant is not now mentally competent (i.e., an ”incompetency letter”). 

Instead of honoring the well-established legal presumption that all adults are competent to sign legal and contractual documents unless proven otherwise (similar to the legal presumption in criminal law that all persons are innocent unless proven guilty), the leaders of the reverse mortgage industry are taking the law into their own hands and reversing the time-honored presumption of competence by essentially presuming that all reverse mortgage applicants were incompetent at the time of signing their Powers of Attorney, and forcing the families of these now-incompetent applicants to prove that these applicants were competent when they signed their Powers of Attorney, often years prior to ever applying for a reverse mortgage.  Worse yet, the reverse mortgage lenders are acting as judge and jury for these applicants, as the lenders are deciding whether to accept the “competency letter” and the “incompetency letter” from the applicant’s physician, assuming these letters can even be obtained.

When I questioned the loan officer in one of these cases, the reply was as follows: “We have discussed this issue with several of our lenders and they all require a doctors’ letter if we are using a poa where someone is incompetent, no matter their age. They want to make sure the person was competent when they signed the poa, and that the person can no longer handle their financial affairs. I understand you would never allow someone to sign a legal document who wasn’t competent but we sometimes run into poas which were printed off the internet.”

I mentioned this travesty to other elder law attorneys around Virginia and around the country and it seems that this is a universal problem that many seniors across the country are running into.  One attorney shared with me that she checked with a reverse mortgage loan officer who has worked for two different reverse mortgage companies, and was advised that this is the policy with both of these reverse mortgage lenders.   According to this attorney, the loan officer acknowledged that this may take the reverse mortgage tool off the table for many seniors as 1) obtaining the required letters is burdensome and may be costly; 2) doctors are much more willing to render an opinion about  incompetency versus competency; and 3) the legal assumption is competency when signing contractual documents, unless there were red flags or actual knowledge to the contrary.

Why is This Such a Huge Problem?

How does this policy eliminate the reverse mortgage as a tool for many seniors?  Let’s look at a typical scenario — the type of situation I see every day.  Let’s say you’re 85, you’ve just had a major stroke, and you’re no longer able to care for yourself.  You either need a live-in caregiver in order to remain in your home or you need to go into a nursing home.  Before your stroke, you had made it clear to your children that, like most elders, you never wanted to go to a nursing home, but would prefer to live out your life at home, with in-home care as needed.  The problem is you can’t afford a live-in caregiver because your only income is Social Security, and you have no assets other than the equity in your home. 

Your daughter, acting as Agent under the POA you gave her 3 years before your stroke, has two options:  

Option 1:  Your daughter can sell your home and place you in a nursing home.  This option would be quite simple.  POAs are routinely accepted in connection with the sale of homes, without being questioned and second-guessed by title companies and settlement attorneys or the purchaser’s mortgage lender, so your daughter would have no problem selling your home.  As for admitting you to a nursing home, that’s also no problem  — POAs are used every day to sign admission documents to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Option 2:  Your daughter can take out a reverse mortgage and draw out the equity in your home each month to pay for a live-in caregiver.  Your daughter and all your other children would all prefer to honor your wishes and allow you to remain at home with a live-in caregiver.   But wait . . . your daughter tries to get a reverse mortgage and is met by obstacle after obstacle.  Even though your daughter can easily sell your house and move you into a nursing home using your perfectly valid Power of Attorney, the reverse mortgage lender will NOT accept the POA unless your daughter (1) obtains a letter from your doctor or former doctor stating that you were mentally competent when the POA was originally signed AND (2) obtains a letter from your current doctor stating that you are now incompetent.  Unfortunately, your doctor from 3 years ago (when you signed the POA) died two years ago; no one took over his medical practice, and your old medical records are therefore not available, so there is no doctor who can write a letter stating that you were competent 3 years ago when you signed the POA.  Or maybe you were so healthy that you hadn’t been to a doctor for 5 years prior to your stroke (or maybe you’d never been to a doctor prior to your stroke), so there are no medical records from 3 years ago and therefore no doctor to write a letter stating that you were competent 3 years ago when you signed the POA. 

The End Result? 

Because of the arbitrary and capricious roadblocks imposed by the reverse mortgage lender in connection with use of your Power of Attorney, your daughter is forced to choose Option 1 — selling your home and placing you in a nursing home.

In my view, the reverse mortgage industry is effectively shooting itself in its collective foot with this unfair policy, as they are turning away the very people who need a reverse mortgage the most — those frail elders who are unable to care for themselves but wish to remain at home and age in place rather than being forced to sell their home and move into a long-term care facility.

Illegal Discrimination in Lending?

Additionally, in my view, this practice by the reverse mortgage industry constitutes illegal discrimination in lending, as the reverse mortgage industry is essentially discriminating against disabled and incapacitated adults by imposing obstacles that are not imposed on able, competent adults.

Discrimination in mortgage lending is prohibited by the federal Fair Housing Act, and HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity actively enforces those provisions of the law. According to HUD, The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful for a mortgage lender to refuse to make a mortgage loan based on “handicap,” defined as ” a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities.”

What to Do?   Forward This Article and File Complaints.

If you or your loved one has experienced this type of discrimination, I encourage you to visit HUD’s Housing Discrimination Complaint Website and file a ” lending discrimination complaint” – either online, by phone, or via mail.  If you’re a fellow Elder Law Attorney and you’ve had clients who have experienced this type of discrimination, please forward this article to your clients (by either forwarding this article via email or directing them to this article online at: http://blog.virginiaelderlaw.com/2010/05/huge-problem-with-reverse-mortgage-industry) and encourage them to visit HUD’s Housing Discrimination Complaint Website and file a complaint.  

If HUD and the reverse mortgage industry start getting enough complaints about this issue, perhaps they will reverse their position so that the reverse mortgage can once again be a useful tool for the elders that need it most.

Survey Shows Some Nursing Homes May Bill For Services Not Provided

Written by Evan Farr

A recent Washington Post article concludes that many nursing homes have been “up-coding” billing for care of residents for years, meaning that some nursing homes sometimes bill a resident more than they should be billed by using a special billing category intended to be used only for the five percent of nursing home patients who need highly specialized care and rehabilition. 

The article quotes Marie-Therese Connolly, who headed the Justice Department’s Elder Justice and Nursing Home Initiative from 1999 to 2007, as stating that “[u]pcoding, billing for services not rendered, and billing for worthless services have been significant problems for years, costing taxpayers many millions, if not billions, of dollars.”

In the Washington area, two nursing homes owned by HCR ManorCare put their residents in the most expensive billing category at nearly five times the national average, according to the Washington Post analysis.  The ManorCare nursing home in Silver Spring, MD put 45 percent of its residents into that category, and the ManorCare facility in Wheaton, MD put 43 percent of its residents into that category.  According to the article, a spokesman for ManorCare denied any improper billing or upcoding, stating that residents are coded into billing categories based on their medical and rehabilitative needs.

According to the Post article, this billing program is specifically targeted in President Obama’s health-care legislation passed last week by Congress, changing two rules that experts said have been exploited by nursing homes to inflate bills.  For a review of how the new health-care legislation affects seniors, see my article Health Reform: Changes in Store for the Elderly.

Health Reform: Changes in Store for the Elderly

Written by Evan Farr

After a year of legislative wrangling and premature forecasts of death, historic legislation overhauling the nation’s health insurance system passed the Congress and has been signed into law by President Obama.  Among some of the highlights, this legislation contains:  

  • The nation’s first publicly funded national long-term care insurance program, the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act;  
  • A number of provisions aimed at ending Medicaid’s “institutional bias,” which forces elderly and disabled individuals in many states to move to nursing homes;
  • Provisions that will help protect nursing home residents and other long-term care recipients from abuses, and give families of nursing home residents more information about the facilities their loved ones are living in or considering moving to. 

Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act

The reasons for the CLASS Act, according to the U.S. Senate, are as follows:

  • Long-term supports and services are not affordable or accessible for millions of Americans.
  • An estimated 65 percent of those who are 65 today will spend some time at home in need of long-term care services, at an average cost of $18,000 per year.
  • Five million people under age 65 living in the community have long-term care needs and over 70,000 workers with severe disabilities need daily assistance to maintain their jobs and their independence.
  • One and a half million Americans are currently in nursing homes today. Roughly 9 million elderly Americans will need help with activities of daily living (ADLs) during the current year, and by 2030 that number will increase to 14 million.
  • Many people who need long term services and supports rely on unpaid family and friends to provide that care, but ultimately are forced to impoverish themselves to qualify for Medicaid, which remains the primary payer for these services.

How the CLASS Act Works

  • The CLASS Act will provide a lifetime cash benefit that offers people with disabilities some protection against the costs of paying for long term services and supports, and helps them remain in their homes and communities.
  • CLASS is a voluntary, self-funded, insurance program with enrollment for people who are currently employed. Affordable premiums will be paid through payroll deductions if an individual’s employer decides to participate in the program. Participation by workers is entirely voluntary.
  • Self-employed people or those whose employers do not offer the benefit will also be able to join the CLASS program through a government payment mechanism.
  • Individuals qualify to receive benefits when they need help with certain activities of daily living, have paid premiums for five years, and have worked at least three of those five years.
  • Once qualified, beneficiaries will receive a lifetime cash benefit based on the degree of impairment, which is expected to average roughly $75 per day.
  • These benefits are intended to help maintain independence at home or in the community, and can be used to offset the costs of assistive living and nursing home care.

While helpful for some seniors, this benefit is fairly minimal for those of us living in the Northern Virgina area, as $75 per day won’t go very far.  In the Northern Virgina area, the average cost for home health ranges from around $18 – $22 per hour; for Assisted Living facilities from around $3,500 per month to $7,000 per month; and for Nursing Homes from around $6,000 per month to $10,000 per month.

Help for Medicare Recipients and Early Retirees

Of great interest to many seniors, the new health care law will eventually close the Medicare Part D coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole.” As most seniors know, the Medicare Part D prescription drug program covers medications up to $2,830 a year (in 2010), and then stops until the beneficiary’s out-of-pocket spending reaches $4,550 in the year, when coverage begins again. Many seniors fall into this “doughnut hole” around Labor Day, at which point they have to pay for the medications out of pocket through the end of the year.

The new law starts the process of closing the gap by providing a $250 rebate to Medicare beneficiaries who fall into the doughnut hole in 2010. Then, beginning in 2011 there will be a 50 percent discount on prescription drugs in the gap, and the gap will be closed completely by 2020, with beneficiaries covering only 25 percent of the cost of drugs up until they have spend so much on prescriptions that Medicare’s catastrophic coverage kicks in, at which point copayments drop to 5 percent.

Starting January 1, 2011, Medicare will provide free preventive care: no co-payments and no deductibles for preventive services such as glaucoma screening and diabetes self-management. Also, the legislation increases reimbursements to doctors who provide primary care, increasing access to these services for people with Medicare.

The law provides help for early retirees by creating a temporary re-insurance program that will help offset the costs of expensive health claims for employers that provide health benefits for retirees age 55-64. Scheduled to run from June 21, 2010 through January 1, 2014, the reinsurance program will pay 80 percent of eligible claim expenses incurred between $15,000 and $90,000.

The law calls for an increased Medicare premium for those individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and married couples whose income exceeds $250,000. The law also applies the Medicare payroll tax to net investment income for couples earning more than $250,000 a year or individuals earning more than $200,000 a year.

Most of the cost savings in the law are in the Medicare program, which has made many seniors fearful that their benefits will be cut. The cost-saving measures do not affect the basic Medicare benefits to which all enrollees are entitled, but they may affect those enrolled in private Medicare Advantage plans. Medicare has been paying insurers who offer these plans more than it spends on average for Medicare beneficiaries. The original idea of Medicare Advantage was to save money by paying them less, the idea being that private insurers could be more efficient than the federal government. The opposite turned out to be the case.

Health care reform will pay the private insurers less, meaning that some will choose not to continue their plans and others will curtail extra benefits they offer enrollees, such as reimbursement for gym membership or free eyeglasses. But the cuts will be gradual, with the largest not beginning until 2015. The law also offers bonuses to efficiently run Advantage plans.

Another provision in the law will cut Medicare payment to nursing homes by about $15 billion over the next decade. Although Medicare does not pay for long-term care in nursing homes, Medicare does, in certain limited situations, pay for short-term rehabilitation in nursing homes, and Medicare’s payment to nursing homes for such short-term rehabilitation has been significantly higher what Medicaid pays to nursing homes.

Beware of Scammers

The new law has also created opportunities for scam artists, some of whom are peddling bogus policies through 1-800 numbers and by going door to door, claiming there’s a limited open-enrollment period to buy health insurance, warns secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. For more on the fraud alert, click here.  


For the full text of the the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, click here.

For the full text of the Reconciliation Act of 2010, click here

More links:

Health Reform Implementation Timeline

Health Insurance Reform: A Guide for Seniors

Consumers Guide to Health Reform

Democratic Policy Committee Summary & Analysis of the two enactments

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Section by Section Analysis

Summary of The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act

New Medical Conditions — Including Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease — Now Qualify for Automatic Disability Benefits

Written by Evan Farr

Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits are paid to individuals who, after having worked for many years, develop a disabling condition, prior to their normal retirement age, that is so severe that they are no longer able to work. Applicants for Social Security disability benefits often have to wait months, and sometimes years, for approval from the government, even if they are clearly eligible for benefits. However, in certain circumstances the Social Security Administration (SSA) will fast-track a disability benefits application through a process known as Compassionate Allowances, usually because the applicant is suffering from a severe disability that may be life-threatening.  If an applicant is suffering from any of the conditions on the Compassionate Allowances list, his application is fast-tracked because it is presumed that he is a person with disabilities. This speeds up the application process and assists people suffering from serious conditions by awarding benefits quickly, when they are most needed.

When a person with disabilities submits an application for benefits, the SSA normally passes the application through a rigorous five-step process to ensure that the applicant truly needs assistance. The SSA first checks to see if the applicant is working, and then assesses whether the applicant is suffering from a “severe” medical condition. In the third step of the process, the SSA compares the beneficiary’s condition to a list of impairments that normally qualify a person for benefits without further assessment. When a person’s condition matches a condition on the list of impairments, the SSA presumes that the applicant has a disability and typically awards benefits without proceeding through the final two steps.

Unfortunately, most applicants typically have to wait for a long time before arriving at this third step in the evaluation process. Compassionate Allowances speed this process up by defining certain specific conditions that “obviously meet disability standards.” Prior to this month, the SSA included 50 medical conditions on the list of conditions that qualified for a Compassionate Allowance.  As of March 1, 2010, the SSA has now added an additional 38 conditions to the Compassionate Allowances list, greatly expanding the number of people who are eligible for the Compassionate Allowances program.

Although most of the conditions on the revised list are rare, of tremendous importance for the aging population is the fact that the SSA has now included Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Mixed Dementia, and Primary Progressive Aphasia among the new fast-track conditions, meaning that people who are diagnosed with any of these conditions can now receive disability benefits very quickly. In addition to a monthly disability payment, qualification for SSDI also allows earlier entry to Medicare health insurance benefits for those under age 65.  And for those under age 65 whose conditions are so severe that they must be placed in a nursing home, a disability determination from SSA also speeds up the Medicaid application process.

Please follow the links below to learn more about the Compassionate Allowance program:

Initial List of Compassionate Allowance Conditions

38 New Compassionate Allowance Conditions

Additional information about how compassionate allowances are processed

Statements from Family Members and Individuals with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

Upcoming Seminars for Lawyers and Clients

Written by Evan Farr

 

I’m conducting two seminars this week on the topic of Income Only Trusts. The first one is a teleseminar for attorneys around the country who are members of the professional group ElderLawAnswers.  Entitled Using Income Only Trusts for Medicaid (and General) Asset Protection, this teleseminar is Thursday, Feb. 11, at 2pm Eastern. If you’re a member of ElderLawAnswers, you can click here to register for the Teleseminar

The other is a free seminar I’m teaching on Saturday morning for clients and potential clients, entitled How to Protect Your Assets from the Expenses of Probate and Long Term Care.  This will be held at the Tysons Corner Mariott, 1960-A Chain Bridge Road, McLean, VA 22012.  Please click here to register for the Saturday morning seminar. 

The answer to the question “How Can You Protect Your Assets from the Expenses of Probate and Long Term Care?” is, of course, to use the Living Trust Plus™ Asset Protection Trust, my highly-developed and proprietary income only trust that’s currently used by dozens of successful Estate Planning and Elder Law Attorneys across the country. 

 As stated by Elder Law Answers, “Income Only Trusts have been around since the 17th century, but have only recently gained in use and popularity, in large part due to the publications and educational efforts of our speaker and long-time ElderLawAnswers member, Certified Elder Law Attorney Evan Farr.”

What most Elder Law attorneys don’t understand is that income only trusts also provide clients with protection from lawsuits and other general creditors, and in the ElderLawAnswers teleseminar, I will be demystifying the income only trust, explaining how and why it works, and explaining to my fellow ElderLawAnswers Members the dos and don’ts of income only trusts so that they may properly serve clients in this exciting and growing practice area.

For middle class Americans seeking asset protection, the income only trust is the preferable form of asset protection trust because, for purposes of Medicaid eligibility, the income only trust is the only type of self-settled asset protection trust that allows a trust settlor to retain an interest in the trust while also protecting the assets from being counted by state Medicaid agencies.

 For my clients and potential clients in the Washington, DC Metro area, by coming to my FREE class on Saturday, you’ll learn what thousands of my clients already know . . .

- That a Will puts your assets through probate, and is a very poor estate planning document.
- That a regular living trust protects your assets from probate, but offers you no asset protection.
- That my proprietary Living Trust PlusTM Asset Protection Trust protects your assets from the expenses of probate PLUS lawsuits PLUS the catastrophic expenses of nursing home care.

If you answer YES to any of the questions below, you need to attend this class:

 - Is someone in your household over age 65?
- Does someone in your household have a serious medical condition?
- Has someone in your household been turned down for long-term care insurance, or found it too expensive?
- Do you want to protect your assets for your family from the devastating expenses of long-term care?
- If you need long-term care in the future, do you want to receive the best possible care?

To learn all the details and find out if the Living Trust Plus™ is right for you, please register now at http://VirginiaElderLaw.com/seminars.html 

Protect and Prosper! 


Evan H. Farr,
Certified Elder Law Attorney
Creator of the Living Trust Plus:  http://www.LivingTrustPlus.com
ALI-ABA Co-Author, Planning and Defending Asset-Protection Trusts (2009): http://www.ali-aba.org/bk64
ALI-ABA Co-Author, Trusts for Senior Citizens (2009): http://www.ali-aba.org/bk65
Farr Law Firm, 10640 Main St., Suite 200, Fairfax, VA  22030

Tel: 703-691-1888 | Fax: 703-940-9160
www.VirginiaElderLaw.com & www.VirginiaEstatePlanning.com
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Using a Reverse Mortgage to Pay for Home Care

Written by Evan Farr

Many of my clients ask me how I feel about reverse mortgages, and even more so this past week because of a favorable story that appeared in last week’s Washington Post entitled “Reverse Mortgages are Not the Next Subprime.”  This excellent article was written by the ”Mortgage Professor,” a Professor of Finance Emeritus at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (incidentally, my Alma Mater), and clears up much of the confusion and myths and fears surrounding the reverse mortgage.  I encourage all of you to read it.  Another good source of information about reverse mortgages is the Federal Trade Commission Fact Sheet

As a Certified Elder Law attorney, one of my primary goals is to help preserve the dignity and enhance the lives of my elderly clients.  For many of my clients, remaining in their homes as long as possible is one of their highest priorities.  I have been a long-time fan of reverse mortgages because they help my clients do exactly that — remain in their homes as long as possible.  

Why? Because in order to remain in your home as long as possible, you will most likely at some point need some home care.  “Home Care” can be health care and/or supportive care provided formally in your home by health care professionals (typically referred to as home health aides) or by paid or unpaid family members or friends (typically referred to as caregivers).  Often, the term “home care” is used to mean non-medical care, or custodial care, which may be provided by persons who are not nurses, doctors, or other licensed medical personnel.  The term “home health care” typically refers to care that is provided by a licensed health care professional — most often a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA).  However, the terms are often used interchangeably, and for simplicity in this article I will use the term “home care” to refer to both types of care.

The goal of home care is typically to to allow you to remain at home and age in place, rather than being forced to move to an assisted living facility or nursing home.  Home Care providers render services in your own home. These services typically include a combination of health care services and life assistance services.

Health care services may include services such as wound care, administration of medication, physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy.  Life assistance services typically include help with daily tasks such as meal preparation, medication reminders, laundry, light housekeeping, errands, shopping, transportation, companionship, and help with the activities of daily living (ADLs), which typically refers to six activities (bathing, dressing, transferring, using the toilet, eating, and walking). 

Although some home care is provided by family members for free, most family caregivers need to be paid, and these payment arrangements should always be made pursuant to a written caregiver contract (prepared by an Elder Law Attorney) between the caregiver and the care recipient.  Because home care is quite expensive, having the proceeds from a reverse mortgage is often one of the  only ways that elders can afford to pay for appropriate home care. According to The 2009 MetLife Market Survey of Nursing Home, Assisted Living, Adult Day Services, and Home Care Costs, the 2009 national average hourly rate for home health aides increased by 5.0% from $20 in 2008 to $21 in 2009. The national average hourly rate for homemaker/companions increased by 5.6% from $18 in 2008 to $19 in 2009. 

Most of my clients, when they start out needing home care, will typically start with receiving 4 hours of care 3 days a week, which costs about $1,000 per month and is easily affordable for many people.  But over time, most of my clients progress to the point of needing upwards of 12 hours per day of home care, costing over $7,000 per month, and very few people can afford to pay for this type of care without eventually tapping into their home equity via a reverse mortgage.

The most common type of reverse mortgage is the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), which completely protects your ability to remain in your home. So long as you pay your property taxes and homeowners insurance, and maintain your property, you can remain in your home forever. If the reverse mortgage lender fails, any unmet payment obligation to the borrower will be assumed by FHA. 

According to the Mortgage Professor’s article mentioned in my first paragraph, in 2009 about 130,000 HECMs were written, and feedback from borrowers has been mostly positive. In a 2006 survey of borrowers by AARP, 93% said that their reverse mortgage had a mostly positive effect on their lives.

For many of my clients, a reverse mortgage is the best way, and often the only way, for them to be able to afford to remain at home, despite the fact that reverse mortgages are expensive to obtain.  However, reverse mortgages are not for everyone, as there are other programs that may be able to help you remain in your home.  For instance, many of my clients are eligible for the Veterans Aid and Attendance benefit or for home-based Medicaid, or can be made eligible for these benefits through our process of Asset Protection

Whether you own your home outright or in a Revocable Living Trust or in my proprietary  Living Trust PlusTM Asset Protection Trust, if you think a reverse mortgage might be the solution you need, please contact me for a free consultation so I can evaluate your specific situation and advise you as to whether a reverse mortgage is your best option for allowing you to live comfortably in your home.

Major Change in Estate Tax and Capital Gains Tax for 2010

Written by Evan Farr

Because of a Congressional failure to act before the end of 2009, there’s good news and bad news to report on the Estate Planning and Elder Law front.  The good news is there’s no Estate Tax if you die this year.  The bad news is you may owe significant capital gains taxes if a loved one dies this year and leaves you significant appreciated assets. If you have total assets of around $1 million or more (including face value of life insurance, retirement plans, home equity, etc.) you should make sure your estate plan is up to date.

Congress has had nine years to prevent this from happening, but has failed to act. Under the provisions of a Bush-era tax-cut bill enacted in 2001, the estate tax exemption has been gradually raised over the past eight years while the tax rate on estates has been reduced. For estates of those dying in 2009, only assets worth $3.5 million or more were subject to estate taxed, at a rate of 45 percent. But now, for the year 2010, the estate tax has disappeared entirely, only to be restored in 2011 at a rate of 55 percent on estates of $1 million or more, which is exactly where things stood before the 2001 change.

Everyone — lawyers, politicians, and political commentators — has expected for the past 9 years that this law would be “fixed” before the end of 2009, but it wasn’t.  According to some commentators, the Republicans concluded that it was in their interest to let the estate tax repeal occur; and the Democrats apparently don’t agree among themselves as to what they think the estate tax law should be, as Democrates have differing opinions over what the tax rate and the exempt amount should be. Senate Democrats tried to persuade Republicans to extend the 2009 estate tax law for a couple of months until a more permanent solution could be devised, but even that effort failed.  Accordingly, there is currently no tax on the estates of those dying during 2010. Congress could reinstate the tax retroactively in 2010, perhaps as part of broader tax reform, but this is not likely according to many commentators.

As the law stands, a few thousand very wealthy families have great financial incentive to hope that their loved ones die this year.  On the other hand, tens of thousands of taxpayers of more modest wealth may have great incentive to keep their loved ones alive into 2011, because if their loved one dies in 2010 and they inherit an appreciated asset, they may have pay capital gains on that inherited asset, and someone acting as an executor will face additional and confusing administrative burdens.

Loss of Step-Up in Basis May Be Quite Expensive for Many Taxpayers

For most people, the main concern with the law as it now stands is not that the estate tax is repealed for 2010; a bigger problem for many is that it’s replaced with a 15 percent capital gains tax on inherited assets that are later sold.  Previously, someone inheriting an appreciated asset (for example, a house that had greatly appreciated in value over the lifetime of your parents) upon a loved one’s death got a “step-up in basis” in the property. A step-up meant that heirs could sell the inherited, appreciated asset right away without owing any capital gains taxes, because the tax “basis” in the property was “stepped-up” to the value of the property at death.

If you inherit an asset now (in 2010), only the first $1.3 million in assets gets a step-up in basis. Anything over the $1.3 million in assets (plus $3 million for assets transferred to a surviving spouse) will not get a step-up in basis.  Instead, when you sell the property you’ll have to pay capital gains taxes based on the original cost basis (typically the price paid for the asset). This raises an additional concern — having to determine what the cost basis of the asset was.  This in itself could be quite expensive, not to mention time-consuming in trying to ascertain the original price paid for assets, including any renovations or improvements made to real estate over the years.

The capital gains tax rules can be quite complicated, but let’s look at a relatively simple example:  a client called me a few days ago with a home worth approximately $1 million and 40 acres of commercial land that her father gifted to her prior to his death, now worth approximately $2 million. The home was originally purchased by my client for $8,000 in 1961 and she put a $40,000 addition on the home in 1982, so her tax basis in the home is $48,000. Her father originally purchased the 40 acres of land around 1943, for $1,000; at the time of his death in 1992, the 40 acres was worth about $600,000.  Had he left the land to his daughter upon his death, she would have taken a stepped-up basis under the old law, but because he gifted it to her prior to his death, she took over his cost basis of $1,000.  So now her two parcels have a total cost basis of $49,000.  If my client had died last year, then her heirs would have received a step-up in basis, meaning if they sold the properties for their current value of $3 million, they would pay no capital gains tax.  Under today’s law, if my client dies this year, in 2010, her heirs will inherit her cost basis of $49,000, meaning that if her heirs then sell these properties for their current value of $3 million, they will pay a 15% capital gains tax on $1,651,000 ($2,951,000 – $1,300,000), or $247,650 in tax.

The chief tax counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee estimates that continuing the estate tax at its 2009 rates would have affected about 6,000 people, but the new capital gains provisions that we now have will affect more than 70,000. And, in general, these 70,000 will be far less wealthy than the heirs who would have been affected by a continuation of the estate tax.

Couples With Credit Shelter Trusts at Risk

The new world of no estate tax places at particular risk certain couples who have built in “Credit Shelter” trust provisions (also called ”Bypass Trust” or “Family Trust” provisions), that are designed to allow both spouses to take advantage of their estate tax exemptions. These are common arrangements used in estate planning for married couples. With the estate tax gone, one possible problem is that the wording of some of these trusts could cause all assets to completely bypass the surviving spouse when the first spouse dies, meaning a surviving spouse might get nothing without the expensive process of claiming her “elective share.” For a more detailed explanation of this potential problem, click here.

Why Did This Happen?

The House passed a bill in early December permanently extending the 2009 estate tax rules, which would have brough in an estimated $25 billion for 2009 by imposing the 45 percent rate on estates over $3.5 million (or $7 million for a couple). The Senate’s Democratic leadership wanted to pass a similar bill and put it on President Obama’s desk before the estate tax expired at the end of 2009, but they were blocked by united Senate Republicans who prefer a lower tax rate of 35 percent and a higher exclusion amount of $5 million ($10 million for couples).

“Republicans who claim to have accomplished something by blocking an extension need to explain why raising taxes on the middle class while lowering them for the very rich is something to be proud of,” the Los Angeles Times editorialized.

For more on the implications of the disappearance of the estate tax, see CBS MoneyWatch’s “Estate Tax: What You Need to Know for 2010,”SmartMoney’s “The Federal Estate Tax Is Dead: Now What?,”and Kiplinger’s “FAQs on the Death of the Estate Tax.”

Everyone — Especially Married Couples — Should Have Their Estate Planning Reviewed ASAP

Because of these somewhat unexpected tax changes, a review of your existing estate planning documents is essential.  If you are a member of the Farr Law Firm’s Estate Plan Protection Program or Lifetime Protection Program, you are entitled to a free review (and, if necessary, a free modification) of your existing estate planning documents every year, and you should call us to take advantage of this annual review as soon as possible.  Most of our trusts will not need to be modified because of special language we inserted in the document, but changes to some trusts may be required.  If your estate planning was done by a different attorney, you should consider going back to that attorney for a review; alternatively, please feel free to contact our office and we will be happy to do a free review of your estate planning documents, determine if any changes are required, and quote you a fee for us to prepare the necessary revised documents.

Important Elder Law and Estate Planning Numbers for 2010

Written by Evan Farr

Under current law, there will be no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in Social Security in 2010 — the first time that has happened since automatic cost-of-living adjustments began in 1975. Several bills before Congress would grant a special increase in Social Security payments for 2010.

In addition, when no Social Security COLA is provided, Medicare Part B premiums — which are deducted from Social Security checks — are frozen for most beneficiaries so that the Social Security checks do not drop (click here for more information).

Below are figures for 2010 that are frequently used in the elder law practice, including the new Medicaid spousal impoverishment figures, the long-term care insurance deductibility limits, and Medicare premiums and co-pays, and Social Security Figures:  

Medicaid Figures for 2010 

Divestment Penalty Divisor $ 6,654.00 – Northern Virginia (Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William Counties and the Cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park.)
$ 4,954.00 – All Other
Individual Resource Allowance $ 2,000.00
Monthly Personal Needs Allowance $ 40.00
Minimum Community Spouse Resource Allowance $ 21,912.00
Maximum Community Spouse Resource Allowance $ 109,560.00
Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance $ 1,821.25
Maximum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance $ 2,739.00
Shelter Standard $ 546.38
Standard Utility Allowance $ 141

Estate Tax Exclusion / Exemption Equivalent Amount: 

Unlimited Exemption (Estate Tax Temporarily Repealed for 2010).  Exemption currently set to revert to $1 million in 2011.

 Annual Gift Tax Exclusion: $13,000  

Attained age before the close of the taxable year Maximum deduction
40 or less $330
More than 40 but not more than 50 $620
More than 50 but not more than 60 $1,230
More than 60 but not more than 70 $3,290
More than 70 $4,110
Beneficiaries who file an individual tax return with income: Beneficiaries who file a joint tax return with income: Income-related monthly adjustment amount Total monthly premium amount
Less than  or equal to $85,000 Less than or equal to $170,000 $0.00 $110.50
Greater than $85,000 and less than or equal to $107,000 Greater than $170,000 and less than or equal to $214,000 $44.20 $154.70
Greater than $107,000 and less than or equal to $160,000 Greater than $214,000 and less than or equal to $320,000 $110.50 $221.00
Greater than $160,000 and less than or equal to $214,000 Greater than $320,000 and less than or equal to $428,000 $176.80 $287.30
Greater than $214,000 Greater than $428,000 $243.10 $353.60
 

Social Security Figures for 2010

         (Click here for SSA Press Release)
         (Click here for SSA Fact Sheet)
 

  • Cost of Living Increase: 0 percent 
  • Maximum Taxable Earnings: $106,800   

SSI Federal Payment Standard:  

  • Individual: $674/mo.
  • Couple: $1,011/mo.

Who Was Supposed To Be Watching Grandma?

Written by Evan Farr

There is a popular tune played this time of year called “Grandma Got Run Over by A Reindeer” which relates that Grandma — after drinking too much eggnog — went out into the winter cold to get her medication and was run over by a reindeer. The question is . . .  “Who was supposed to be watching Grandma?”

Though this little tune is just for fun, it may very well raise alarms to many caregivers of the elderly. Caregivers know that even at a holiday party they cannot let down their diligent watch over their elderly loved one. As far-fetched as it may sound, with all the people and noise, an elderly family member with dementia or Alzheimer’s may be enjoying the family gathering and then suddenly become confused and walk to the door and leave.

For family caregivers the added stress of the holidays with decorating, shopping, parties and keeping up with all the family traditions is an overwhelming quest. Feelings of isolation, depression and sadness come with this added stress. There are millions of Americans who are caring for elderly frail loved ones and most of these caregivers will go through some of these emotions, especially this time of year.

There are some things you can do as a caregiver to help you and those you care for enjoy the holiday season.

First take care of yourself. Try to eat right, get plenty of sleep and exercise. This will help reduce stress and strengthen your ability to cope with caregiving responsibilities.

Prioritize your holiday traditions. Perhaps instead of cooking a large family dinner, have everyone bring his or her favorite dish. Use paper plates. Forfeit the traditional outside light decorating for a lighted wreath on the front door. Choose one or two parties or concerts to attend instead of trying to do it all.

Arrange for help. Call on other family members to help with the caregiving while you do your shopping or go out for the evening. If family is not available, ask your church group or a neighbor if they would donate a few hours.

Use community services. Many senior centers provide meals for the elderly and supervised activities, onsite, at no charge or a minimal charge. For locating senior services in your state, call your state Area Agency on Aging or check the national locator website at http://www.n4a.org/

Use adult day care services. Some assisted living facilities provide day activities and meals for seniors on a day by day basis. Other organizations called “adult day service providers” specialize exclusively in this sort of care support at a reasonable cost. These support services provide respite for caregivers from their caregiving responsibilities as well as social interaction for their elderly family members. There is a cost for adult day services, but the benefit for all is worth it.

Technology to the rescue. Here is a solution that would have kept “Grandma” from going out in the winter cold and getting run over by a reindeer. Companies that have created monitoring systems, security alarms and other safety equipment are “tweaking” them to adapt to the needs of seniors and their care givers.

Here are a few examples:

  • Ankle or wrist bands that monitor location and alert the provider when a person has gone beyond the designated perimeter, such as out the front door of the house.
  • Motion detectors. Set throughout the home, motion detectors allow someone outside the home to follow a senior as he or she moves through the house.
  • Smart medication dispensers. Live monitoring and dispensing of pills.
  • Emergency response alert. At a touch of a button on a desktop monitor, bracelet or necklace, emergency help is summoned.

Whether providing care in your home or helping senior family members in their own homes, your use of monitoring and “tech” help aids can provide extra safety for your loved ones, and peace of mind for you.

You are not alone. Join a caregiving help group. Your local senior center may have one or go on the internet to find one. Hearing about other caregivers’ problems and solutions and being able to share your own and ask questions is a great way to relieve stress and gain a new perspective. Check out websites like the National Family Caregivers Association at http://www.nfcacares.org/

Work with a Senior Care Professional. Recognize that you are doing the very best you know how. You are not a geriatric health care practitioner, geriatric care manager, home care nurse or aide, hospice provider or family mediation counselor, nor do you have the years of training and experience these professionals have, but you can definitely use their experience. In fact, using a senior care specialist will make caregiving easier for you and more beneficial for your elderly family member.

You can find a wide variety of care professionals in your area on the National Care Planning Council website at www.longtermcarelink.net and on our website at http://www.virginiaelderlaw.com/TrustedReferrals.htm.

One more thing to remember. As a family caregiver, the greatest gift you are giving this holiday season is “Love.”