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Medicaid

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Is Divorce the Best Option for People Over 65?

Your parents may have had a long and relatively happy marriage. They may intend to live together until their death. Nonetheless, the financial reality of today’s government rules may force them to consider divorce.  And there is no need for psychological counseling at this point. Divorce, with future cohabitation, would be done simply to qualify for long term care benefits.

Current Medicaid rules tacitly encourage divorce. In New York State, for people over 65, to qualify for Medicaid as an individual, one cannot have income of greater than $825 a month. A married couple cannot have income of greater than $1,209. Clearly, a divorced couple can shelter a greater amount of income than a married one. Furthermore, an individual on Medicaid cannot have assets of greater than $14,850. A married couple cannot have assets of greater than $21,750, again, penalizing a couple and encouraging divorce.

When only one spouse needs Medicaid (in order to receive home care or nursing home care), divorce may simply become a necessity in order to shelter some of the assets.  A ‘community spouse’ (the spouse which is not receiving Medicaid) is permitted to keep no more than $119,200 of assets, and no more than $2,980 of income per month. Any excess above these numbers may be subject to a Medicaid recovery lawsuit. As a result, the sick spouse may transfer all of his assets to his spouse, and then the spouses divorce.

The information in this blog was adapted from

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-amy-ziettlow/is-divorce-the-best-option-for-older-americans_b_6878658.html

 

Disclaimer: This article only offers general information.  Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions.  As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney-client relationship.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Asset Protection Planning for the Home

Medicaid Eligibility:

What is homestead: A “homestead” is the primary residence occupied by the Medicaid recipient or his spouse, minor or disabled child. A homestead is an exempt resource for the purpose of Medicaid eligibility.

Penalty Period: All transfers, including the transfer of your home, are subject to a ‘look back period’ from the time of the application for Medicaid nursing home benefits. Currently the ‘look back period” is 5 years. The period of ineligibility for nursing home services is calculated by dividing (i) the uncompensated value of the transferred resource by (ii) the average regional monthly cost of a nursing home to a private pay patient. The period of ineligibility begins only when the Medicaid recipient is in a nursing home and “otherwise eligible”. The maximum penalty period is 60 months.

There is currently no look back period and no penalty for uncompensated transfers for Medicaid home care benefits.

Exempt transfers: Some transfers are exempt and do not incur a penalty period. Those are transfers to a spouse, transfers to a minor or disabled child, transfers to an adult child who has resided with the parent for at least 2 years prior to the transfer and became a primary caregiver, and transfers to a brother or sister of the owner who has lived with the owner for at least one year prior to the transfer and who already owns an ‘equity interest’ in the home.

Why should the home be transferred if it is an exempt resource? Even though it is an exempt resource, Medicaid has a right to put a lien on the home for the services provided to the Medicaid recipient. Therefore, even though one will have a right to receive Medicaid and a right to live in one’s home, after the Medicaid recipient’s death, the heirs will likely have to sell the home to pay off the Medicaid lien.

Furthermore, if the Medicaid recipient has to go into a nursing home and there is no spouse or minor / disabled child living in the home, the homestead becomes an available resource. At that point, it will likely have to be sold and the proceeds will be used to pay for nursing home.

Various Types of Transfers That Need to be Considered When Protecting the Home

  1. Outright transfer to a spouse

  2. Outright transfer to children / relatives

  3. Outright transfer with a retained life estate

  4. Transfer to a revocable trust

  5. Transfer to an irrevocable trust with a retained life estate

  6. Transfer to an irrevocable trust

Each type of a transfer has its own Medicaid, legal, asset protection and tax implications. The effect on the Medicaid recipient during his lifetime, the effect on the beneficiaries during the Medicaid recipient’s lifetime, and the effect on the beneficiaries after the Medicaid recipient’s lifetime should be considered.

There is no one correct solution that applies to everyone. Each situation is unique, and the client’s health, family status, resources and goals must be considered. It helps to talk to an elder law attorney, to evaluate the different options, and to understand the implications of your actions.

Disclaimer: This article only offers general information.  Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions.  As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney-client relationship.


Monday, March 2, 2015

What happens with government benefits if one gets an unexpected windfall?

There are many government programs: SSI, Medicaid, food stamps, etc. Most of these programs have thresholds for recipient’s income and assets. What happens when recipients receive an unexpected windfall – inheritance, personal injury award, etc? Can one retain both the money and the benefits? Can one decline the award? The answer depends on the type of benefit in question: 

SSI

Qualification: In order to qualify for SSI, one’s assets cannot exceed $2,000 (if single) and $3,000 (if married). Any uncompensated transfers of assets done within 3 years of SSI receipt will incur a penalty.

Effect of a windfall: if the SSI recipient receives a windfall, it is considered income in the month of receipt, and asset if retained until the next month. Any transfer of the asset will incur a penalty and a disqualification from the benefit. The only exception to this rule is for people who are below 65 and disabled; they are permitted to transfer the windfall to a Special Needs Trust for the benefit of themselves without losing their SSI benefit.

What to do: consider the amount of money received. If the amount is small, you may consider spending the money on yourself in the month of receipt. There are many things that one can do – house improvements, payment of debts, food, clothing, vacation, etc. As long as the money is spent within 1 month, the recipient will retain his eligibility for future months. 

If, on the other hand, the amount is large, you may consider transferring the money to a trust / relatives and then losing the benefit for the next 3 years. The maximum amount of SSI benefit in New York for 3 years is approximately $29,000. If the personal injury is $500,000, the loss of $29,000 is not that significant.

 

Medicaid

Qualification: depends on the age of the recipient and the type of Medicaid care that one is receiving.

If below age 65, not an SSI recipient and no disabilities, Medicaid considers only one’s income. Assets are not considered. Income thresholds depend on the number of people in the family and whether or not there are children.

If after age 65, Medicaid considers both income and assets. An individual’s assets cannot exceed $14,750 and income cannot exceed $825 per month.

Asset transfers: If one receives only home care or medical care, then Medicaid does not impose a penalty on asset transfers. On the other hand, if one is in a nursing home or will apply for nursing home care in the next 5 years, Medicaid imposes a penalty of up to 5 years. 

Effect of a windfall: If a Medicaid recipient receives a windfall, it is considered income in the month of receipt, and asset if retained until the next month. If one is below 65, one may either retain the asset or transfer it, and retain his eligibility for the future months.

What to do: If a Medicaid recipient is above 65, consider the amount of money and the type of care that is needed. Generally, seniors depend on Medicaid as their medical insurance, therefore retaining the assets and losing the benefit may not be an optimal solution. Consider first spending the money on your immediate needs (paying down debt, house repairs, etc). Then consider transferring the remaining money. Remember that if nursing home is needed in the 5 years after the transfer, Medicaid may impose a penalty and deny the benefits.

This article only offers general information.  Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions.  As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney client relationship.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

3 reasons why you might NOT want to plan for Medicaid

You probably see a lot of advertisements trying to convince you to plan for Medicaid in order to obtain long term care coverage. Long term care is home care (for people who live in their homes but need help with daily activities) and nursing home care.

I, on the contrary, will show you that if you are over 60 and fall into a certain category, you might not need to plan for Medicaid.  Below are the 3 reasons you do not need to think about long term care planning.

1. You have over $1MM in savings that you do not mind spending on your own health care.

Approximately 70% of the seniors can expect to need some form of long term care.  Long term care can be in the form of home care services (home attendants) where a hired helper comes for a few hours a day to give assistance in daily living, or in the form of a nursing home.

On average, nursing home costs approximately $14,000 a month in New York City.  The annual amount ranges from $140,000 a year in Queens to $180,000 in Manhattan, and the cost is rising rapidly.  The average stay in a nursing home for a patient is approximately 2 years (which means that some people may stay there for 4 years or longer).

Home care services may range from a home attendant coming for a few hours each day to assist with shopping and cleaning, to 24 hour a day care. Usually, the length of time required for a senior increases as the diseases and the weaknesses progress. A 24 hour a day home attendant that is privately paid can cost up to $500 a day, translating into the same cost as a nursing home - $180,000 a year.

As I wrote earlier, Medicare generally does not pay for long term care. At this point, Medicaid is the only government program that pays for home care and nursing homes.

In general, if one expects to need some form of home care for several years, and then eventually to need nursing home care, the overall cost of this care can be $1MM or more. If you have this money and do not mind spending it on your own long term care, then you do not need to think about Medicaid planning.  

2. You have a crystal ball

A lot of people think that they do not need to plan for long term care, because they will do so only when the need arises. Others believe that they will not need long term care at all, and their family will take care of them. However, there are many situations when planning in an emergency is not an efficient method and can result in a large loss of money.

For example, Medicaid imposes a penalty for all uncompensated transfers made in the 5 years prior to an application for nursing home coverage. If there were any gifts made (this often happens when the family realizes that a loved one’s health is declining rapidly), Medicaid will refuse to cover the nursing home cost for up to 5 years from the date of application. The family will have to pay privately from its own savings.

There are ways to reduce this penalty period, but in general, at least ½ of the assets will have to be used to pay for nursing home cost. Planning ahead of the need is the best method of protecting your assets.

 3. You have long term care insurance

This is one of the best reasons not to plan for Medicaid long term care. A long term care policy may cover home care services and nursing home costs.

However, before you feel completely complacent, you should ask yourself the following questions about your policy:

  • Does it provide enough coverage? You need to review the long term care policy to see the amount of coverage that it provides. Some policies pay only $250 a day. A nursing home private room or a 24 hour home attendant can cost up to $500 a day. The money that is not paid for by the insurance will have to come from your savings.

  • Does it last for a sufficient time? Some policies only provide coverage for a limited number of years. Have you thought about your expenses if the coverage expires?

  • Are you able to pay the premiums for the policy? You need to review if you are able to continue paying for the long term policy. Some policies have recently increased their annual premiums by 20-50% a year, to make up for the unexpected costs that they have to bear. Even if you have long term care policy now, will you still have it when the need arises?

Overall, if you fall into one of the above 3 categories, you may not need to plan for Medicaid. If you do not, however, you should consider talking to a Medicaid planning attorney who will review your individual situation and suggest an optimal course of action.

This article only offers general information.  Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions.  As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney client relationship.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Difference between Social Security, Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income

There are many acronyms in government benefits. This article explains the difference between most common Social Security benefits.

Social Security benefits are based on the individual’s earnings, averaged over the worker’s life.

Eligibility: To be eligible, an individual must have a minimum of 40 quarters of reported earned income. To receive full credit for the quarter, the amount of earnings is currently $1,200. This amount has been raised incrementally since 1977.

Age of eligibility: for people born after 1959, the age of retirement is currently 67 years. For people born between 1943 to 1954, the full retirement age is 66. Individuals may retire early and collect reduced Social Security benefits as early as age 62. The reduced level of benefits will continue for the rest of the individual’s life.

What income is counted: only earned income is considered when determining eligibility or benefit amounts. Unearned income, such as interests and dividends, is not counted.

Earnings Limitations on Benefits: for individuals between ages 62 and 65 collecting Social Security benefits, earnings above $15,480 will reduce Social Security benefits by $1 for each $2 of earnings in excess of $15,480. For individuals above age 65 collecting Social Security benefits, all earnings limitations have been eliminated.

 

Social Security Disability (“SSDI”) benefits are based on several criteria, including medical condition, age, prior earnings level, and period between termination of employment and the onset of disability. The case will be periodically reviewed, to ensure that the individual is still disabled.

Definition of disability: inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of no less than 12 months, taking into account the person’s age, education and past work history.

Determination of Eligibility:

  1. To be fully insured and eligible for Social Security Disability payments, an applicant must have 40 quarters of earnings. For workers under the age of 31, there is a special calculation.

  2. To be fully insured and eligible for Social Security Disability payments, an applicant must have reported earnings within 5 years prior to the onset of disability.

If the above 2 criteria are met, then:

  1. There are 5 criteria that Social Security Administration evaluates when determining eligibility, such as (a) substantial gainful employment at the time of the application, (b) severe impairment, (c) listed impairment, (d) past relevant work and (e) residual functioning capacity.

Medicare for Social Security Disability recipients

If an individual receives Social Security disability benefits for a continuous period of 24 months, he becomes eligible for Medicare Part A and B, without regard to age.

Reduction of Social Security Disability benefits

An individual’s benefits are not reduced if he has other sources of income, such as IRA accounts, pensions, insurance, SSI, or Veterans Administration benefits.

 

Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) is a federal program that pays a monthly cash stipend to indigent aged, blind or disabled individuals.

Eligibility:

1. Categories: There are 3 separate categories of people who are eligible to receive SSI:

a. Aged: people above 65 years of age

b. Blind: either total blindness or minimal vision that is incapable of correction

c. Disabled: people who are unable to perform any gainful employment because of a medical or mental condition that is expected to last for at least a year.

2. Resource test: an individual is entitled to have no more than $2,000 in resources (a married couple is entitled to no more than $3,000)

a. Certain assets are exempt from calculation, such as a primary residence, a car, and household goods

b. Assets held for the benefit of an individual in a Special Needs Trust, if structured properly, are also not considered resources

3. Income test: an individual’s income from all sources is considered when determining eligibility  

a. Certain income is exempt, such as food stamp benefits, German reparation payments, reverse mortgages, etc.

b. Other income is disregarded, such as the first $65 of earned income and the first $20 of unearned income.

Transfer of Assets

At the time of application, Social Security Administration will conduct an investigation into any transfers that were done by the applicant or his spouse in the past three years. A penalty will be calculated for all transfers that were made for less than a full market value. The penalty is calculated by dividing the amount gratuitously transferred by the maximum monthly benefit. The maximum penalty period is 3 years.  

Medicaid for SSI recipients

Any New York State resident who is eligible for SSI is automatically enrolled into the Medicaid program.

This article only offers general information.  Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions.  As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney client relationship.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Differences between Medicare and Medicaid

The cost of nursing home care or 24 hour home care averages over $140,000 per year in New York City. At this rate, only the very wealthy can pay indefinitely for this care, without depleting their lifetime savings. Since most people do not have private long term care insurance to pay for this cost, seniors look to government programs to pay for the cost of long term health care. The following explains some of the differences between Medicaid and Medicare, the programs that people rely on to pay for this cost.

Difference Between Eligibility for Medicaid and Medicare

Medicare is available for those above 65 years of age and those with disabilities under the age of 65 who have received Social Security Disability benefits for 2 years. Medicare is based on one’s payments into the Social Security system, therefore eligibility is not based upon the income or assets of a beneficiary.

Medicaid is means tested, i.e. the recipient must qualify financially, both based on income and assets. In 2015, for people older than 65, the annual income threshold for a single individual is $9,900 ($14,500 for a married couple) and the asset threshold for a single individual is $14,850  ($21,750  for a married couple).

What Does Medicare Cover and What Does Medicaid Cover?

Medicare Part A covers in-patient medically necessary hospital care, skilled nursing facility care, skilled home health services and hospice care.  The requirement for “skilled” is very specific, Medicare Part A will not cover nursing home care or home care if it is simple "personal care services" (feeding, dressing, etc).  The fact that Medicare does not cover regular long term care comes as a surprise to many.  

Medicare Part B covers physician’s payments.

Medicare Part C provides beneficiaries with alternatives to the traditional fee for service. The services are provided by various health care providers, such as Health Maintenance Organizations ("HMOs").

Medicare Part D covers prescription drugs.

Medicaid covers chronic care in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, participating physicians’ fees and home care services. Since Medicaid covers home care and nursing home care, something that Medicare and most private insurance plans do not, Medicaid coverage becomes almost a necessity for people who are expecting to need long term home care.

What Are Countable Assets (from Medicaid’s Perspective)?

All financial accounts in one’s name are countable. Retirement plans that are in pay status do not count as assets, however the monthly distributions are counted as income. The individual’s primary residence does not count as an asset (unless the Medicaid recipient is in a nursing home, the equity in the house exceeds $828,000, and there is no spouse or disabled child living in the home).

Can One Transfer The Assets and Qualify for Medicaid?

The answer is – it depends. All transfers between spouses are exempt, therefore there is no penalty period after those transfers. Similarly, if one is applying for Medicaid while living in his home, then he can transfer the assets to his children or to a trust in one month, and become eligible for Medicaid during the following month.
However, if one is applying for nursing home Medicaid, then Medicaid looks at all transfers made within the last 5 years of the application, and determines an ineligibility period based on the amount of assets transferred. Therefore, crisis planning is usually not very effective when it comes to nursing home Medicaid planning.

 

Can One Transfer All Assets to a Spouse and Qualify for Medicaid Immediately?

Yes, however, there is a maximum resource and income allowance for the “community spouse” – the spouse who remains in the community while the institutionalized spouse is in the nursing home. The community spouse may retain the home, may retain between $74,820 and $1192,20 in assets, and may retain the maximum annual income of $119,220. However, the community spouse has a  legal duty to support the institutionalized spouse. Therefore, if the community spouse has the assets and the income above these thresholds, Medicaid is likely to institute a collection action, to compel the community spouse’s support.

In general, Medicaid seeks contribution of 25% of the excess income, but may seek up to all excess assets. It is generally advisable to convert the excess assets into an income stream.  However, as there may be a dispute about how much of an income is “excess”, unintended consequences may result, with nursing homes filing guardianship actions to compel additional payments.

One should also think about the future of the second spouse. Generally, spouses are close in age. If one of the spouses currently needs home care or nursing home care, it is likely that the second spouse may need similar type of care in a few years. Therefore, planning for the second spouse is also advisable. Transferring all assets to a ‘community spouse’ may solve the immediate crisis and is not a good long term solution.  

This article only offers general information.  Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions.  As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney client relationship.


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