Estate Planning in the Age of Stepfamilies

October 26, 2017

More than 4 in 10 Americans have at least one step-relative in their family – either a stepparent, a step or half sibling or a stepchild — according to the Pew Research Center. The National Center for Family and Marriage Research estimates that about one-third of all weddings in America create stepfamilies. A recent trust case from North Dakota highlights the importance of taking current and potential step-relationships into account when planning your estate. William and Patricia Clairmont created two trusts for their grandson, Matthew.  In both trusts, “the brother and sisters” of Matthew were contingent beneficiaries (meaning they would be the trust beneficiaries...

Social Security Beneficiaries Will Receive a 2 Percent Increase in 2018

October 20, 2017

In 2018, Social Security recipients will get their largest cost of living increase in benefits since 2012, but the additional income will likely be largely eaten up by higher Medicare Part B premiums. Cost of living increases are tied to the consumer price index, and an upturn in inflation rates and gas prices means recipients get a small boost in 2018, amounting to $27 a month for the typical retiree. The 2 percent increase is higher than last year’s .3 percent rise and the lack of any increase at all in 2016. The cost of living change also affects the maximum amount of...

Use Your Will to Dictate How to Pay Your Debts

October 20, 2017

The main purpose of a will is to direct where your assets will go after you die, but it can also be used to instruct your heirs how to pay your debts. While generally heirs cannot inherit debt, debt can reduce what they receive. Spelling out how debt should be paid can help your heirs. If someone dies with outstanding debt, the executor is responsible for making sure those debts are paid. This may require selling assets that you would like to leave to specific heirs. There are two types of debts you might leave behind: Secured debt is debt...

New Yorker Article Highlights Abuses in the Guardianship System

October 14, 2017

Serious problems with the public guardianship system in the United States can lead to elder abuse, according to an in-depth article in The New Yorker titled “How the Elderly Lose their Rights.” Court-appointed guardians can take control of an elderly person’s finances and life and become wealthy while doing so. One expert interviewed describes the guardianship system as “a morass, a total mess.” If an adult becomes incapable of making responsible decisions due to a mental disability, the court will appoint a substitute decision maker, often called a “guardian,” but in some states called a “conservator” or other term. Guardianship is a legal relationship between a competent...

Now Is the Time to Review Your Medicare Options

October 8, 2017

Are you happy with your current Medicare plan or plans? Now is the time to think about whether you are in the right plan or whether a new plan could save you money. Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, in which you can enroll in or switch plans, runs from October 15 to December 7. During this period you may enroll in a Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan or, if you currently have a plan, you may change plans. In addition, during the seven-week period you can return to traditional Medicare (Parts A and B) from a Medicare Advantage (Part C,...

Nursing Home Costs Rise Sharply in 2017

October 2, 2017

The median cost of a private nursing home room in the United States has increased to $97,455 a year, up 5.5 percent from 2016, according to Genworth’s 2017 Cost of Care survey, which the insurer conducts annually. Genworth reports that the median cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is $85,775, up 4.44 percent from 2016. The rise in prices is much larger than the 1.24 percent and 2.27 percent gains, respectively, in 2016. The price rise was slightly less for assisted living facilities, where the median rate rose 3.36 percent, to $3,750 a month. The national median rate...

Pay Attention to the Small Details When Dealing with Long-Term Care Insurers

September 24, 2017

A long-term care insurance company recently cancelled the insurance coverage of an elderly woman who accidentally wrote the wrong amount on her premium check. The case illustrates the need for policyholders to pay attention to the details. Madeleine Maldonado, of Concord, Massachusetts, had a long-term care insurance policy through AIG. According to an article in the Boston Globe, when Ms. Maldonado wrote a check to pay her $3,399.91 long-term care insurance premium, she put down the correct amount in the number box, but she accidently wrote out “three thousand three hundred and 99/100 dollars.” Under banking and finance rules, if a...

Florida Nursing Home Tragedy Causes Rethinking of Disaster Preparedness

September 24, 2017

The recent tragedy in which ten Florida nursing home residents died when the nursing home lost power during Hurricane Irma is causing government officials to rethink disaster planning.  Even though we are an estate planning firm in Centennial CO, it’s important to share this information nationally. In response to the deaths, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced a new emergency rule, requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the state to have generators capable of maintaining comfortable temperatures for four days after a loss of power. Fire marshals must inspect the generators within 15 days after installation. The rule goes into effect immediately...

Long-Term Care Scorecard Finds States Have Room for Improvement

September 7, 2017

A new report finds that states have made incremental improvements in providing long-term care, but need to make more improvements in order to meet the needs of the growing number of people who require long-term care services. According to the 2017 Long-Term Services and Supports State Scorecard, while long-term care remains unaffordable for middle class families, there has been some progress in other areas. The scorecard, a collaboration between the AARP, The Commonwealth Fund, and The SCAN Foundation, measures states’ long-term care system performance in five areas: affordability and access, choice of setting and provider, quality of life and quality of care, support for family...

Be Aware of the Kiddie Tax Before Leaving an IRA to Children

September 1, 2017

Grandparents may be tempted to leave an IRA to a grandchild because children have a low tax rate, but the “kiddie tax” could make doing this less beneficial. An IRA can be a great gift for a grandchild. A young person who inherits an IRA has to take minimum distributions, but because the distributions are based on the beneficiary’s life expectancy, grandchildren’s distributions will be small and allow the IRA to continue to grow. In addition, children are taxed at a lower rate than adults—usually 10 percent. However, the lower tax rate does not apply to all unearned income. Enacted to prevent...

HUD Makes Reverse Mortgages a Little Less Attractive

September 1, 2017

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced changes to the federal reverse mortgage program. Citing the need to put the program on better financial footing, HUD will raise reverse mortgage fees and limit the amount homeowners can borrow. A reverse mortgage allows a homeowner who is at least 62 years old to use the equity in his or her home to obtain a loan that does not have to be repaid until the homeowner moves, sells, or dies. In a reverse mortgage, the homeowner receives a sum of money from the lender, usually a bank, based largely...

You Can Pay Your Medicare Premiums Online

August 25, 2017

Online bill paying has become a popular way to make paying bills easier, and now you can pay your Medicare premiums online too. If your bank allows customers to pay bills online, you can use that service to pay your Medicare premiums. To set up online bill paying, contact your bank. To make sure your bank processes your premium payments correctly, you’ll need to give the bank this information: The amount of your Medicare premium Your account number, which is your Medicare number without dashes (this number is on your red, white, and blue Medicare card) The biller’s name: CMS...

Don’t Let Health Care Providers Use the Improvement Standard to Deny Medicare Coverage

August 25, 2017

Have you or a loved one been denied Medicare-covered services because you’re “not improving”? Many health care providers are still not aware that Medicare is required to cover skilled nursing and home care even if a patient is not showing improvement. If you are denied coverage based on this outdated standard, you have the right to appeal. For decades Medicare, skilled nursing facilities, and visiting nurse associations applied the so-called “improvement” standard to determine whether residents were entitled to Medicare coverage of the care. The standard, which is not in Medicare law, only permitted coverage if the skilled treatment was...

Why You Should Use a Lawyer for Medicaid Planning

August 23, 2017

Many seniors and their families don’t use a lawyer to plan for long-term care or Medicaid, often because they’re afraid of the cost. But an attorney can help you save money in the long run as well as make sure you are getting the best care for your loved one. Instead of taking steps based on what you’ve heard from others, doing nothing, or enlisting a non-lawyer referred by a nursing home, you can hire an elder law attorney. Here are a few reasons why you should at least consider this option: No conflict of interest. When nursing homes refer the...

Retirement Savings Program for Lower-Income Earners Is Ending

August 23, 2017

The Trump administration is ending an Obama program that was designed to be a starter retirement savings account for low- and middle-income workers. The Trump administration’s Treasury Department determined that the program, known as myRA, was not cost effective. Similar to a Roth IRA, the myRA accounts allowed workers to invest money after tax and withdraw the money in retirement tax-free. Unlike a Roth IRA, however, the savings were backed up by U.S. Treasury bonds, so investors would never lose their principal investments. The accounts were available to married couples with modified adjusted gross incomes up to $191,000 and to individuals earning...