Don’t Forget Long-Term Care Costs When Planning Your Estate

When discussing estate planning with clients or potential clients, the meeting usually begins with questions about who will receive property, who will make medical and/or financial decisions upon incapacity, and how to minimize taxes  and the costs of estate administration.  Most individuals tend to shy away from discussing how to pay for long-term care or nursing home expenses as it is not easy to talk about the unpleasant thought of needing nursing home care.  No one wants to go into a nursing home. I believe many families are sincere when they say they will not let mom or dad go into a nursing facility or they will care for them at home.  Sometimes, however, it is just not safe for someone to remain at home and skilled nursing care is the only option.

Long-term care expenses can cost six figures annually in some states, and generally speaking are not covered by Medicare or your private health insurance policy. Although there are several strategies to protect your assets in the event you require long-term medical care, we will focus on two of the more common financial and legal strategies for this article.

Long-Term Care Insurance

Long-term care insurance policies should be considered as an option to pay for long-term care in the event care is needed.  There are different options for coverage, so discussing your needs with a qualified insurance representative and elder law attorney is very important to ensure you are protected.

Irrevocable Trust

Asset protection using an irrevocable trust is another option to protecting your assets from estate recovery should you need long-term care. Because of the 5-year look-back period rules involving trusts, this type of planning must be done at least five years before the need for long-term care and the filing of a Medicaid/MassHealth application. A consultation with a qualified estate planning and elder law attorney is highly recommended if considering an irrevocable trust strategy.

As discussed above, we discussed only two strategies for purposes of this article. Each family’s situation should be discussed on a case-by-case basis to determine what strategies are appropriate.  Many different factors such as health, family dynamic, assets/income, and whether we are working with a spousal couple or single/surviving spouse are a few examples of the factors we must evaluate to determine what options our families have.  Please call our office to schedule a consultation to discuss what’s best for your family.

The Importance of Appointing a Health Care Agent

It has been almost ten years since the case of Terri Schiavo was argued in Florida courts.  In 1990, Terri Schiavo collapsed in her Florida home in full cardiac arrest.  She suffered brain damage due to lack of oxygen and as a result, could not make medical decisions for herself.  According to doctors, Ms. Schiavo was diagnosed as being in a vegetative state.  Several types of therapy were attempted, hoping her condition would improve. In 1998, Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband and guardian, petitioned the Florida state courts to have her feeding tube removed.  Michael Schiavo argued that Terri would not have wanted life-prolonging measures including a feeding tube.  Ms. Schiavo’s parents opposed this arguing that she would want have wanted to continue life-prolonging measures.  A trial to determine her end of life wishes included eighteen witnesses.  This court battle went on until 2005, including appeals in the state and federal courts.  Ms. Schiavo ultimately passed on March 31, 2015, after her feeding tube was ordered removed.

As  noted above, this legal battle spanned fifteen years.  The sole question in this case was to determine what Terri’s wishes would have been regarding life-prolonging procedures.  With a comprehensive health care proxy and living will, Ms. Schiavo would have been the one to determine what her end of life wishes were.  Although a health care proxy probably would not have prevented disagreement between Terri’s parents and husband regarding the course of treatment, maybe the legal battle could have been avoided or minimized with proper planning.

Update to the Massachusetts Homestead Law

     Although the Massachusetts homestead law is not new, being enacted in 1851, it still causes confusion to homeowners as to what protection it affords.  An estate of homestead is a type of protection for a person’s residence from most creditors.  It allows homeowners in Massachusetts to protect their property up to five hundred thousand ($500,000) dollars.

     In December, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law St.2010, c.______ (S2406), An Act Relative to the Estate of Homestead.  This legislation, which goes into effect March 16, 2011, makes several changes to the current homestead law:

  • Automatically protects up to $125,000 in home equity without filing
  • Protects up to $500,000 for those that file for homestead protection
  • Allows spouses to both file, currently only one may file
  • Clarifies that there is no need to re-file after refinancing
  • Allows trustee to file for homestead for homes transferred into trust
     In the past, you were required to file a declaration of homestead to gain the protection from creditors. With the new legislation, every homeowner will receive an automatic $125,000, regardless of filing.  If you do file a declaration of homestead, you will still receive the $500,000 of home equity protection. Even more important, for those that have transferred their homes into trust, the Trustee may now file for homestead on behalf of the beneficiaries.

If you have recently refinanced, or transferred your home into a trust, or have any questions regarding your current homestead status, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

Financial Planning For Families With Special Needs

ESSENTIAL STEPS TO ACCOMPLISH YOUR GOAL

  • Start Early and Get Help –  Lack of planning may have disastrous consequences.  Planning for special needs families often involves several  financial, legal and benefits-related strategies.  Assembling a team of qualified professionals to advise you will take time.  A financial advisor, estate planning attorney, benefits coordinator, trustee/trust company, family physician/registered nurse, and of course family members may all need to be involved in the ultimate plan.
  • Establish a Special Needs Trust – If you’re receiving government sponsored benefits, a gift or inheritance may cause a disqualification of those benefits.  A frequently asked question  is how to provide for a family member with special needs without jeopardizing those government benefits.  Parents may purchase life insurance to be paid out to a special needs trust.  They may also designate the special needs trust as a beneficiary in a will, trust or retirement account.  The funds designated to the special needs trust at death may be used to supplement the special needs family member without jeopardizing their benefits.
  • Draft a Letter of Intent – How can you be assured that proper care will be given to your child? You’ve established a special needs trust  to provide financial assistance when you’re gone, but have you named  a person that will assume the role of guardian or caregiver?  Do they know the name and address of your child’s physician?  Do they know their therapies, procedure and medication schedule?  Do they know their faith and where they attend religious services?  Answers to these and many other questions should be discussed and memorialized to ensure the best possible care for your child.
  • Consider Life Insurance – Someone, most likely a family member, will have to step in to act as a guardian and raise your child.  In all likelihood, that family member will have to pay for some of the services the parents had provided when able.  If the estate was not large enough, life insurance can provide the needed funds to help defray the cost of care.
  • Review Often – Many changes will occur during the course of your life.  Reviewing your plan annually will ensure everything is up to date to give you the peace of mind your family is taken care of.

Social Security Reports No Increase In Benefits for 2010

Normally, seniors receiving social security benefits see a 2-3% increase in their benefits each year.  For the first time in decades, there may not be a cost-of-living adjustment.  For some, social security checks may be lower when factoring in Medicare Part B premiums.  Most, however, are protected by a provision that ensures Medicare premiums don’t increase more than any increase in Social Security benefits. FULL ARTICLE.

Parents Of College-Bound Children Need To Plan Wisely

Planning your estate, whether young or old, is very important.  Sound advice from your accountant, financial advisor, insurance agent and estate planning attorney can help you plan for whatever bumps in the road you encounter during your lifetime.  Younger couples must establish a financial plan to make sure they provide for their children and can enjoy a comfortable retirement.  Older couples may want to diversify or restructure their portfolios to ensure they have enough money to last throughout retirement and minimize exposure to taxes and long-term care.  Parents of school aged children must be careful not to decrease their families eligibility for need based financial aid while developing their estate plan. Some estate planning strategies that may affect your eligibility for financial aid include:

  • Saving In Your Child’s Name – Many families establish UTMA/UGMA  accounts to save for college.  While these accounts may potentially offer tax savings, because student assets are assessed higher than a parent asset during the financial aid process, the reduction in need based financial aid can be much greater than the potential tax savings.
  • Lifetime Gifting – One strategy to minimize estate tax is taking advantage of the annual $13,000 exclusion and gifting to others.  While this may be an appropriate strategy for estate and tax planning, it may have a devastating effect on financial aid eligibility.  Be sure to discuss your plan with an estate planning professional before utilizing this strategy or receiving a gift as part of a tax plan as there may be more appropriate options available.
  • Retirement Accounts – Where your money is invested may have an impact on the amount of financial aid you may qualify for.  A review of your financial plan can determine if your investments are appropriate for your particular situation.

While there are many options in planning for retirement, minimizing tax or long-term care exposure, or developing a comprehensive estate plan, make sure your families needs are addressed in your overall plan.  Failing to plan for your childs education could frustrate your overall financial goal.

Protecting Assets From The Costs of Long Term Care

WHEN IS THE RIGHT TIME TO BEGIN PLANNING?

As everyones financial and medical backgrounds are different, so is the “right” time to begin planning.  The more time you have to plan before long term care is needed, the more options you may have and less stress you and your family will endure.  Anytime you have a concern about how you will pay for long term care for yourself or a loved one, it  may be time to begin the planning process.  Preemptive planning will give you peace of mind and allow you to:

  • Analyze your financial background
  • Ensure your legal documents are up to date and distribute your estate as you wish
  • Make sure the distribution of your estate will not jeopardize public benefits for others
  • Discuss options to allow loved ones to remain at home instead of a nursing home
  • Take steps to protect and preserve your assets, including your home
  • Research all community benefits programs applicable to your situation
  • Designate agents to make medical and financial decisions for you in the event you are unable to make decisions for yourself

Long term care, incapacity and death are not subjects we are comfortable discussing.  The earlier and more comprehensive we plan, the less stress our families will be faced with in the event uncomfortable decisions need to be made.

Use Care When Planning For Special Needs Children

Being a parent comes with great joy but significant responsibility.  It is no different for parents of children with special needs. In some situations, careful planning can be critical to address a family’s financial needs.  Parents must not only plan to care for their children during their lives, but they must also take steps to ensure they have a plan in place if their child is not able to support or care for themselves when they are gone.  When is the right time to plan?  It is never too early to begin to plan for your child’s care.  As housing and work options may be limited when persons with disabilities reach the age of majority, financial planning must be addressed to ensure there are assets available to cover the long term costs to care for your child. 

COMMON MISTAKES

  • If your child is receiving government benefits, naming your child as a direct beneficiary may disqualify them for needed benefits
  • Disinheriting your child, or directing your special needs child’s inheritance to another family member with the understanding the money will be used to care for your child should be considered with exreme caution.  A lawsuit, divorce, or bankruptcy would subject the assets earmarked for the care of your child to great risk
  • Failing to name a dedicated trustee that will be involved in the life of the child. Naming a trustee to merely distribute the assets, and have no other involvement in the child’s life, may not be the best option

One effective planning tool is the use of a special needs trust.  A special needs trust holds assets earmarked for the costs of caring for your special needs child and distribute those assets for the benefit of your child without jeopardizing eligibility for government benefits.  A comprehensive and often reviewed estate plan will ensure that your special needs child is cared for when you are no longer able to.

Elder Advisory Group Offers Free Resource Guide For Seniors

Senior Resource Center of Worcester County is now offering a free resource guide to Seniors in the Worcester County area.  Senior Resource Center of Worcester County (SRCWC) is a full-service elder advisory group assisting Seniors and their families in the areas of financial guidance, asset protection and care coordination.  SRCWC offers solutions in identifying and accessing options for care coordination and assists in comprehensive lifetime care planning.  For your free resource guide, see the SRC Worcester website or call 508.421.6766.