Articles Posted in Elder Law

Figuring out the best time to claim Social Security benefits is an important part of retirement planning that can have long lasting impacts on the type of lifestyle individuals and their spouses can expect to enjoy in their Gold Years. Depending on when individuals decide to take their Social Security benefits, from the ages of 62 to 67, it can mean the difference of hundreds of dollars per month to thousands of dollars of the course of a lifetime.

While the conventional wisdom is to wait as long as possible to claim benefits, and hopefully reach maximum payouts, for many beneficiaries there comes a time known as the “break even point” when the amount of benefits claimed would be essentially the same regardless of the amount received per month. This happens because the program is designed to give individuals more or less the same payout over their projected lifetimes, known as “actuarial neutrality.”

Determining one’s break even point is a fairly straightforward process but should take into account certain other factors that may artificially inflate any projected payout, namely excluding cost of living adjustments. Including projected cost of living adjustments will only create artificially high numbers that may not end up being actual benefits received.

Across the country, states are attempting to combat the tide of rising insurance premiums and overall increased healthcare costs burdening Americans by asking the federal government for permission to engage in so-called “reinsurance programs.” While these types of programs have only been in effect for a few years, the early data suggests they can be potent tools to help curb the cost of health care premiums for individuals with plans under the Affordable Healthcare Act.

A reinsurance program helps to protect insurers from very large claims by having the state step in to pay part of an insurance company’s claims once they pass a certain amount and can help stabilize an insurance market and make coverage more available and affordable but needs more than just a temporary pool set up to create real and lasting effects on the market.. Experts estimate that around three-dozen or so common medical conditions are responsible for high claims, with about half of ACA marketplace enrollees living with one or more of these conditions.

Although each state participating in reinsurance programs have their own models, some of the more common plans are for the state to cover insurance claims between $50,000 and $250,000 for those with ACA coverage. With the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate, these reinsurance programs can serve as a temporary fix to help shore up individual marketplace plans and give lawmakers a few more years to come up with a long term solution to rising healthcare costs.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently issued a warning to consumers about the risk associated with adding cryptocurrencies to so-called self-directed individual retirement accounts. These types of unregistered IRAs allow individuals to invest their nest eggs outside of the stock market and bond market and often incorporate holdings in real estate, private mortgages, precious metals, and more recently cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

In an investor alert issued by the SEC, regulators warned that the agency has the power to oversee traditional IRA investments like stocks, bonds and mutual funds but lacks oversight of self directed IRAs. Although spokespersons for the SEC did not mention a specific scheme or incident to prompt the alert, the agency nonetheless felt it was important to issue the statement to warn consumers about the risks associated with the accounts.

The SEC also recently joined the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants in pointing out that this type of fraud associated with self directed IRAs can pose a unique opportunities for criminals to perpetrate elder abuse. With questions about the solvency of Social Security, rising health care costs, and other economic uncertainty may lead seniors and adults planning for retirement to consider these type of risky, self directed IRA accounts over traditional investment methods.

A recent study by the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine suggests that women whose mothers lived healthy lives into their 90’s may be a key indicator for longevity and overall health. The study was published in the Journal of Age and Ageing and examined over 22,000 participants over a two-decade span and found that women whose mothers live to at least 90 years old with no health problems have a 25 percent chance of living past 90 years old.

In cases where both parents lived to be at least 90-years old, the study found that the likelihood of women living into their 90’s increased by 38 percent. However, researchers did not find any increased longevity in cases where only the subject’s father lived to be at least 90 years old. One key caveat to the study is that the subject’s parents not have suffered any chronic health conditions like heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.

The study is important because it helps to validate the view that genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors transmitted across generations may influence ageing outcomes among offspring. Although we cannot control the genes we are born with, we can however make healthy lifestyle choices, such as maintaining a good diet and getting exercise, that can create positive environmental factors to help us live longer, healthier lives and hopefully pass on those traits to our children.

A recent European study suggest that adopting what is popularly known as the “Mediterranean Diet” could potentially help people live longer, healthier lives. Although it does not have a specific set of dietary requirements, the Mediterranean Diet is typically considered to be one made up of fish, nuts, fresh vegetables, olive oil and fruit – all popular culinary items in Italy and surrounding regions.

According to the study, conducted in Italy and published in the British Journal of Nutrition, those surveyed with a higher adherence to the Mediterranean Diet had a 25 percent lower risk of death compared to those who had a lower adherence. The study also concludes that even a modest increase in adhering to the diet could yield as much as a 6 percent decrease in risk of death from any cause. Those calculations were based on the participant’s age, sex, activity levels, socioeconomic status, smoking and body mass index (BMI).

A total of 5,200 individuals aged 65 or older from the Molise region in Italy were followed as part of the study and were recruited as part of a larger study between 2005 and 2010, and followed up until 2015. Those participants were given a questionnaire asking about their diet in the year leading up to the study and each was given a score of 0 to 9 based on how closely the person followed the Mediterranean Diet. Participants who scored from 7 to 9 saw the greatest benefits compared to those who scored 0 to 3.

Most of us would not want to be anywhere else but in our homes as we grow old and enjoy our Golden Years. However, as we age the daily activities and chores we took for granted can become greater burdens or turn into situations where we may suffer serious injury in our own home. Fortunately, it does not have to be like this and there are a number of different modifications that can be made to improve the safety and comfort of the places we live.

While most of the homes in the country were not designed with the foresight of being accommodating to the physical and cognitive challenges many seniors live with and overcome every single day. Stairs, hallways, and other physical barriers can present unique challenges to older Americans but with a few universal modifications seniors can live safely and comfortably in their homes.

One revolutionary thing seniors can take advantage of right away is incorporating smart home products to help control things like the thermostat, turnings lights and televisions on and off, and locking windows and doors. Another great advantage of adopting smart technology throughout the home is being able to monitor what is going on and report to caretakers or relatives any issues with the house.

No one wishes to end up in a nursing home or require assisted living care but for many Americans, it is a reality that will come true and needs to be planned for. When we do enter a nursing home or have our loved ones placed there, we expect the facility will look after residents and provide the appropriate care to ensure elders live their Golden Years in comfort and dignity.

However, because nursing homes and other skilled care facilities are for-profit business that look to maximize their income and payments, particular from federal entitlement programs like Medicaid, they sometimes make decisions that are not in the resident’s best interest. One of the most drastic measures a nursing home can take is evicting a resident and will often employ a variety of measures to see the process through.

Often times, nursing homes will justify an eviction by saying the facility simply cannot meet the resident’s needs. Excuses for why a nursing home cannot take care of a resident include that individual having dementia, being combative, or is non-weight bearing and needs assistance for even the simplest tasks. Other times, nursing homes will reevaluate residents after the facility converts to another type of assisted living facility and focuses only on taking care of patients with different medical and lifestyle needs.

Qualified plans  such as IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s and other deferred compensation are excellent ways to help reach your estate planning goals and ensure your wealth is not depleted by excessive taxes and assisted living costs. IRAs in particular help achieve both of these goals because they are not taxed and if utilized properly, will not count against you when applying for Medicaid to pay for nursing home care.

For estate planning purposes, qualified plans are considered those which individuals make contributions to while working and begin making at least the required minimum distribution (RMD) at 70-years old. IRAs and qualified plans help encourage people to save early and often for their retirements by offering these tax-free incentives and should be taken full advantage of to ensure we can live our our retirement in comfort.

If an individual is already living in a nursing home and applying for Medicaid, the principal amount of the IRA is protected when calculating one’s assets to determine whether or not he or she qualifies for Medicaid as long as that person is taking the RMD. For a Roth IRA, it is not necessary to take the RMD if distributions are being taken.

Creating a trust is one of several ways folks can pass on the fruits of their hard work to family, friends, and business partners and has the added bonus of being able to avoid the time consuming and costly process of passing those assets of the estate through probate. With a trust, the creator names a trustee, beneficiaries, and how the trustees are to manage the trust. It is important to know that there are different types of trust, which can severely limit the creator’s control over the trust while he or she is alive.

A revocable trust is just that, one that can be altered or done away with during the lifetime of the creator for whatever reason he or she sees fit. Common reasons for changing a revocable trust can be related to life changes like getting married, divorced, having children, or financial changes. Many times, grantors create revocable trusts because they are malleable but some estate planning choices require the grantor create an irrevocable trust that does not allow he or she to make alterations.

When a grantor creates an irrevocable trust, he or she transfers assets to the trust and effectively lose ownership or control over them. One of the main benefits of this type of trust is to shield assets from creditors since the assets and any income associated with them no longer belong to the debtor. Irrevocable trusts can also be useful to spend down assets to qualify for Medicaid which is granted only to those with small amounts of assets.

When planning our estate, most of us do so with the intent of making sure our family and close friends are taken care of after we pass away and for some of us, that can include our companion animals many consider to be as close as family. Fortunately, New York trust and estate laws allows taking care of our pets to be more than an afterthought and gives individuals the opportunity to proactively plan for the even that we may not be around to take care of the animals we love so much.

In New York, the legal mechanism that allows pet owners to posthumously care for their companion animals can be found in the Uniform Probate Code § 2-907. Honorary Trusts; Trusts for Pets. New York is one of over 20-states that allow these special kinds of trusts to allow for the care of pets and other domesticated animals. Depending on the type of animals to be cared for, these arrangements may be as simple as bequeathing animals in a will and leaving a small amount of money or as complex as placing an entire farm into a trust and allowing beneficiaries to name caretakers.

Honorary trusts can be created for a whole host of situations with the basic goal being to have money put away to ensure maintenance of some property. This can include keeping headstones at cemeteries in good condition, preserving artwork, and providing for food and medical care of pets. It is not necessary to have a beneficiary named but it is also important to note that these types of trust can only last for 21-years, which may complicate care for long-lived animals.

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