How Do I Talk about End-Of-Life Decisions?

With the coronavirus pandemic motivating people to think about what they prioritize in their lives, experts say you should also take the time to determine your own end-of-life plans.

Queens News Service’s recent article entitled “How to have the hardest conversation: Making end-of-life decisions” reports that in this coronavirus pandemic, some people are getting scared and are realizing that they don’t have a will. They also haven’t considered what would happen, if they became extremely ill.

They now can realize that this is something that could have an impact upon them.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70% of Americans say they’d prefer to die at home, while 70% of people die in a hospital, nursing home, or a long-term care facility. This emphasizes the importance of discussing end-of-life plans with family members.

According to a survey of Californians taken by the state Health Care Foundation, although 60% of people say that not burdening their loved ones with extremely tough decisions is important, 56% have failed to talk to them about their final wishes.

“Difficult as they may be, these conversations are essential,” says American Bar Foundation (ABF) Research Professor Susan P. Shapiro, who authored In Speaking for the Dying: Life-and-Death Decisions in Intensive Care.

“Now is a good time to provide loved ones with the information, reassurance and trust they need to make decisions,” Shapiro says.

Odds are the only person who knows your body as well as you do, is your doctor.

When thinking about your end-of-life plans, talk with your doctor and see what kind of insight she or he can provide. They’ve certainly had experience with other older patients.

If you want to make certain your wishes are carried out as you intend, detail all of your plans in writing. That way it will be very clear what your loved ones should do, if a decision needs to be made. This will eliminate some stress in a very stressful situation.

Even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, everyone will still need a will.

Talk with an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney to make certain that you have all of the necessary legal documents for end-of-life decisions.

Reference: Queens News Service (May 22, 2020) “How to have the hardest conversation: Making end-of-life decisions”

Suggested Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Elder Care

C19 UPDATE: Should You Bring Mom Home from the Nursing Home Now?

If you have a loved one currently living in a nursing home, you’re probably worried about them right now. You may not be able to visit them or check in on their care. You may be afraid that the next COVID19 outbreak will strike their facility.

And … you may be struggling with the decision about whether it’s best for them to stay in the facility, or if you should bring them home.

These are all reasonable concerns. There have been more than 5,670 coronavirus deaths in long-term care facilities nationwide, according to state health data reported by NBC News on April 15.

But would Mom or Dad fare better, even with all due social distancing, in the family home?

Some issues to carefully consider if you are struggling with this question now:

  • Are you prepared to shoulder the entire burden of care for your loved one now? If not, are there other family or community resources that could help – and can you access them in the current situation?
  • What does your loved one want? Do the benefits of moving them out outweigh the stress of disruption and displacement?
  • Can you really keep your elderly loved one safer at home … especially if they have chronic conditions such as heart, lung, or kidney disease?
  • How long will you be able to keep up with your loved one’s care at home … and
  • Will your loved one be able to return to the facility if you cannot keep up … or after the danger has passed?
  • Will your loved one lose their Medicare or Medicaid benefits if they leave the nursing home?

These questions, and more, should be addressed before making the decision to remove your loved one from a nursing facility. Check with an elder law attorney who is familiar with your situation, state and federal laws, and nursing home policies who can explain your options and guide you to an informed decision.

Resources: NBC News, Coronavirus deaths in U.S. nursing homes soar to more than 5,500, April 15, 2020; March 18, 2020;

 

Nursing Home Care Costs and Applying for Medicaid

Medicaid provides several programs funded through a state-federal agreement, explains the article “Planning a must: Medicaid and paying for nursing homes” from The Dallas Morning News. One of the programs provides long-term nursing home care benefits to pay for nursing home or approved residential care facilities. However, requirements to qualify for Medicaid vary widely from state to state. It’s best to speak with an elder law attorney, who will be able to help you plan in advance.

Let’s take Texas as our example. To qualify in the Lone Star state, you must have a medical need and fall under the income and asset caps, which change yearly. In 2020, the income limit for an individual is $2,349 and the asset (resource) amount is $2,000. For a married person, your spouse can have income and resources that are protected, $25,728 is the minimum SPRA (the minimum resource protected amount) and the maximum is $128,640. The monthly maintenance needs allowance for a spouse is $3,216.50. If they sound like low levels, they are. However, there are some assets that Texas does not count. The well spouse may continue to maintain the family home, as long as its value is less than $595,000. A car, burial plots and prepaid funeral arrangements are also permitted.

For most people, this presents a bad situation. Their assets are too high to qualify for Medicaid, but they don’t have enough money to pay for nursing home care. That’s where Medicaid planning with an elder law attorney comes in. The attorney will know where assets can be shielded to protect the well spouse and how to work within the Medicaid requirements.

A word of advice: Don’t start giving away assets because you think that you can do this yourself. The first rule: there is a five-year lookback period, and if assets have been distributed within a five year period of the person applying for Medicaid, their eligibility will be delayed. The rules about gifting assets are complicated and mistakes are non-negotiable.

Be careful of elder exploitation. Planning for Medicaid is one thing, being convinced to impoverish yourself so someone else can have a luxurious lifestyle is another. There’s a fine line between the two. Be aware of the difference. An attorney can play an important role here, since they have a legal and ethical responsibility to protect their client’s interests.

Be certain that you have a Durable Power of Attorney in place. Why? If you become incapacitated during the process of Medicaid planning, your agent will be able to help with Medicaid planning and file for the Medicaid application.

Don’t sell your home. In most states, the primary residence is a protected asset for Medicaid. Once it is sold, however, the proceeds of the sale are considered a personal asset and will be counted.

It’s also important to understand that Medicaid does not pay for all nursing home stays. Medicaid pays for a nursing-home designated “Medicaid bed” in a semi-private room. Depending on where you live, there may not be as many Medicaid beds as there are people who need them.

An elder lawyer will be able to help you and your family with planning for Medicaid, and with an application. You’ll be better off relying on the help of an experienced attorney.

Reference: The Dallas Morning News (March 15, 2020) “Planning a must: Medicaid and paying for nursing homes”

Long Term Care Varies, State by State

What if your parents live in Oklahoma, you live in Nebraska and your brothers and sisters live in New York and California? Having the important conversation with your aging parents about what the future might hold if one of them should need long-term care is going to be a challenge, to say the least.

It’s not just about whether they want to leave their home, reports the article “What is the best state for long term care” from The Mercury. There are many more complications. Every state has different availability, levels of care and taxes. If the family is considering a continuing care retirement community, or if the parents already live in one, what are the terms of the contract?

The differences between states vary, and even within a state, there can be dramatic differences, depending upon whether the facility being considered is in a metropolitan, suburban or rural area. There’s also the question of whether the facility will accept Medicaid patients, if the parents have long-term care insurance or any other resources.

Here’s what often happens: you open up a glossy brochure of a senior community in a warm climate, like Florida or Arizona. There are golf courses, swimming pools and a great looking main house where clubs and other activities take place. However, what happens when the active phase of your life ends, slowly or suddenly? The questions to ask concern levels of care and quality of care. Where is the nearest hospital, and is it a good one? What kind of care can you receive in your own apartment? Are you locked into to your purchase, regardless of your wishes to sell and move to be closer to or live with your adult children?

And what happens if you or a “well” spouse runs out of money? That’s the question no one wants to think about, but it does have to be considered.

For people who move to Florida, which has a very generous homestead exemption for property taxes and no state tax, the incentives are strong. However, what if you become sick and need to return north?

For seniors who live in Pennsylvania and receive long-term care and other services, the well spouse’s retirement funds are exempt for Medicaid regardless of the amount. However, if you move over the state’s border to New Jersey, and those accounts will need to be spent down to qualify for Medicaid. The difference to the well spouse could be life changing.

Delaware and New Jersey have Medicaid available for assisted living/personal care. Pennsylvania does not. The Keystone State has strict income limitations regarding “at home” services through Medicaid, whereas California is very open in how it interprets rules about Medicaid gifting. Utah also has Medicaid available for nursing home care and has a segment that helps with assisted living cost called the New Choice Waiver.

The answer of where to live when long-term care is in play depends on many different factors. Your best bet is to meet with an estate planning elder care attorney who understands the pros and cons of your state, your family’s  situation and what will work best for you and your spouse, or you as an individual.

Reference: The Mercury (March 4, 2020) “What is the best state for long term care”

 

Q & A – Medicaid for Nursing Home Care

As we approach our third act, new terminology comes into our daily lives that we may have heard before, but maybe never gave much thought to. Terms like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Long-Term Care, and so on, can become sources of anxiety, if we don’t truly understand them. Therefore, today we’re answering some of the fundamental questions about Medicaid for nursing home care, in the hopes that we can alleviate at least one source of anxiety for you.

Question #1 – What is Medicaid?

Medicaid is a state and federal government-funded program that provides medical services to financially eligible individuals. Unlike Medicare, you do not have to be elderly to qualify for Medicaid, and many elderly individuals receive Medicaid benefits, including nursing home care. Every state administers its own version of Medicaid. For more information on Medicaid programs in your state, visit the Medicaid website, and select your state.

Question #2 – What are Medicaid’s basic financial eligibility requirements for nursing home care?

To determine your eligibility for nursing home benefits under Medicaid, the government will look at your income and resources in a given month to ensure you are within the legal limits for Medicaid benefits. To qualify for Medicaid, your monthly income must be less than the Medicaid rate for nursing home care, plus your typical monthly healthcare expenses. If you are eligible, you are allowed to keep $70 of your income for personal use. The rest is taken to pay for your care.

Question #3 – What is the Medically Needy Program under Medicaid?

For individuals that may exceed the financial limits to receive Medicaid, they may still qualify to receive Medicaid benefits under the medically needy program. This program allows individuals with medical needs to “spend down” their income to acceptable rates, by paying for medical care for which they have no insurance. For individuals over the age of 65, states are required to allow you to spend down your income regardless of medical necessity.

Question #4 – What resources can we have if my spouse is applying for Medicaid?

When a married couple applies for Medicaid, both spouses’ income and resources are included in the qualifying calculations. You may have all of the “exempt” resources, like an automobile and a house, along with one non-exempt item that does not exceed a set value (currently just over $58,000), such as cash or investments. Once your spouse qualifies for Medicaid, after one year, all excess income and resources must be transferred to the non-Medicaid-benefitted individual. That spouse may also accrue income and resources over and above the limits that Medicaid imposes on the benefitted spouse.

More information can be found on the Medicaid website, including requirements and benefits information for the state in which you reside. If you are interested in more information about long term care planning, speak with a qualified elder law attorney.

References:

Medicaid.gov. (Accessed November 28, 2019) https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/index.html

Holiday Gatherings Often Reveal Changes in Aging Family Members

A look in the refrigerator finds expired foods and an elderly relative is asking the same questions repeatedly. The same person who would never let you walk into the house with your shoes on now, is living in a mess. The children agree, Mom or Dad can’t live on their own anymore. It’s time to look into other options like assisted living or home care.

One of the biggest questions, according to the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News’ article is “How to pay for long-term care.”

The first question involves the types of facilities. There are many different options but the distinctions between them are often misunderstood. Assisted living facilities provide lodging, meals, assistance with eating, bathing, toileting, dressing, medication management and transportation. However, a skilled nursing facility adds more comprehensive health care services. There’s also the personal care home, which provides assisted-living type accommodations, but on a smaller scale.

The next question is how to pay for the residential care of an elderly family. This weighs heavily on the family. That elderly person is often the one who did the caregiving for so many years. The reversal of roles can also be emotionally difficult.

There are a few different ways people pay for care for an elderly family member.

Long-term care insurance, or LTC insurance. Few elderly people have the insurance to cover their residential facility stay, but some do. Ask if such a policy exists, or go through the piles of paperwork to see if there is such a policy. It will be worth the search.

Veteran’s benefits. If your loved one or their spouse served during certain times of war, is over 65 or is disabled and received an honorable discharge, he or she may be entitled to certain programs that pay for care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Private pay. If your loved one has financial accounts or other assets, they may need to pay the cost of their residential facility from these assets. If they don’t have assets, the family may wish to contribute to their care.

Another route is to apply for Medicaid. An elder law attorney in their state of residence will be able to help the individual and their family navigate the Medicaid application, explore if there are any options to preserving assets like the family home, and help with the necessary legal strategy and documents that need to be prepared.

Meet with an elder law estate planning attorney to learn what the steps are to help your elderly loved one enjoy their quality of life, as they move into this next phase of their life.

Reference: Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News (November 30, 2019) “How to pay for longterm care.”

Tips for Seniors Who Are Moving to Assisted Living

When you are planning your move into assisted living, you can quickly get overwhelmed with the endless list of things you need to do. If you are moving out of a home where you have lived for many years, the thought of having to downsize and get rid of most of your possessions can produce anxiety. If thinking about all the work ahead of you makes you feel sad or tired, it can help to have a roadmap. Here are some organizational tips for seniors who are moving to assisted living.

You will be dealing with two situations – your current house and your new home. Each one needs a tailored game plan.

How to Minimize the Stress of Packing Up Your House

When you move from a large home to a smaller environment, the logistics dictate that everything will not fit into the new space. You will have to part with some of your items.

Rule #1 is you should be the one to decide what you keep and take with you to your new home. No one should dictate what you can have. These strategies can help:

  • Some of the bulk of your items will be a simple matter, because you will have no use for some things in assisted living. For example, since the facility will likely take care of the yard work, all the lawn and gardening equipment can go to a new home. You can save someone a lot of money, by giving them these items when they buy a house.
  • If you move to a warmer part of the country, you might not need your winter gear anymore. Donating those things can help keep someone in need from being cold and reduce how much you have to move.
  • Walk into one of your rooms and make a list of the three or four things you love the most in that room. If you only keep your favorite things, when you are in your new home, everything you see will bring you joy.

Changing how you think about the process, can make it less emotional for you. Instead of thinking about losing most of your belongings, imagine how liberating it will be when you are not tied down by so many things. Most people discover a lightness and freedom, when they get rid of the clutter and things that do not matter.

Settling into Your New Home

When you pack up at your previous house, visualize how the items you keep will fit into the new space. Make sure you hold on to the things that will make you feel comfortable and at home. Arrange your favorite things, so you can see familiar items from every angle throughout your space. With a little planning, you can recreate the feel of your old home environment. Keepsakes matter. While you do not want to be crowded by clutter or create tripping hazards, a cherished clock, photographs, books and artwork can help you feel as if you belong from the first day.

If you are planning to move to an assisted living facility, reach out to your qualified elder law attorney. They may be able to help you with government benefits and are familiar with the process of transitioning.

References:

A Place for Mom. “Moving Seniors: Settling in to Senior Care.” (accessed November 21, 2019) https://www.aplaceformom.com/planning-and-advice/articles/moving-seniors

When are You Done with Estate Planning?

A family has set up their estate plan. Two sons are already in the farming business and are thriving. Their daughter will receive the proceeds from a second-to-die life insurance policy and their considerable savings. The amounts are not equal in amount, but they are an equitable inheritance, and it seems like the couple has done its homework.

However, asks an article in The Courier, “The will is done, you’re sitting pretty—but are you?”

Estate planning is a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Like farming, it gets put together over time, piece by piece. Each piece represents something that needs to be done. For instance, a key part of the puzzle is having a last will and testament. That functions like building the outside frame of the puzzle, for those who start their puzzles by building the perimeter first. It frames the rest of your estate plan.

Other pieces are included within the will, like naming a personal representative, or executor. This is the person who is in charge of distributing your assets and making sure that the directions in your will are followed, when you pass away.

Do you have a plan for what happens when you die? For instance, if a husband dies, is there a plan for the wife to maintain the farm, or will she sell machinery and other transitory assets?

For the couple mentioned above who has the will, a transition spelled out in the will and a second-to-die policy in place to supplement the daughter’s inheritance, congratulations: they have many pieces of the puzzle in place. However, that’s not everything.

The other parts of the puzzle have to do with issues while the couple is still living. What happens if one or both are injured, or become ill? Who should take over the farming in the short or long term? Who will care for the spouse or spouses? Will they depend on each other for caretaking, or their daughter?

The number one worry for seniors is whether they have enough money to last until they die. However, by taking a portion of their savings and investing in a long-term care insurance policy, they can rest assured that they or their spouse will get the care they need—in a nursing home or at home—without burning through the family’s savings.

This piece of the estate planning puzzle—preparing for illness or disability—is often missing, and it can turn the rest of the estate plan into a pile of unattached pieces.

Speak with an estate planning attorney today to make sure your estate plan does not have any missing pieces. If you have not recently reviewed your estate plan in the last three or four years, schedule a review. Changes in the law and changes in your own life may make your old estate plan out of date and may no longer achieve the goals you had in mind.

Reference: The Courier (Sep. 4, 2019) “The will is done, you’re sitting pretty—but are you?”

The Dark Side of Dementia Care

You might expect the federal government to oversee and regulate assisted living facilities. However, since Medicare and Medicaid usually do not pay for stays at these facilities, there is no federal protection for the residents. When you consider how many assisted living centers now claim to offer dementia and memory care, you can see the brewing of a perfect storm. Highly vulnerable people are at the mercy of unregulated facilities. If you have a loved one in an assisted living center, you need to know about the dark side of dementia care.

People who live in nursing homes have some protections through federal legislation. The government imposes strict rules on nursing homes that receive funding from Medicare or Medicaid. Most assisted living centers are private pay, so the federal government cannot regulate them.

Some states have regulations designed to protect people in long-term care facilities. These states are discovering appalling conditions at many assisted living centers that advertise dementia care. Let’s be clear – there are wonderful facilities that provide fantastic dementia care. The problem is, a great number of for-profit facilities have sprung up quickly, without enough focus on the best interests of the residents.

The Reasons for Unacceptable Conditions at Dementia Care Facilities

The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia has risen dramatically over the last 20 years. Businesses all over the nation have seized on this opportunity to make a profit, by providing specialized care services. The problem is, many of these facilities do not deliver the promised level of care and security for these residents.

Long-term care can cost $5,000 to $7,000 a month or more. Most of the facility employees get paid low wages, particularly the workers who provide the lion’s share of the hands-on care of residents. To increase profits, the corporations that own and run these facilities often have high patient-to-staff ratios. In short, the centers are understaffed, and the workers are underpaid. Neither of those factors is conducive to the safe, attentive, nurturing environment that a person with dementia needs.

A Climate of Not Caring

Even when a state has regulations for assisted living centers, the punishments show little value for the well-being and lives of the elderly. For example, a 90-year-old lady with dementia lived in an assisted living facility in South Carolina. When she wandered away from the center one night, her absence went unnoticed for seven hours. By the time someone finally realized she was missing, she had already met a gory death.

An alligator in the pond next to the center killed and partially ate her. Her granddaughter was one of the first people to find the remains of the body. A year later, the state cited the facility for more than 10 violations involving patient safety, including not maintaining adequate numbers of staff and failing to perform nightly checks of residents. The state imposed a fine of $6,400.

Long-term care ombudsmen across the U.S. say that many facilities use psychotropic drugs as chemical restraints, instead of providing the quality care the residents need and for which they are paying thousands of dollars every month. The staff members often do not have training in dementia care, but even in states with a training requirement, industry experts say the regulations get ignored.

Every state makes its own regulations. Be sure to talk with an elder law attorney near you to find out how your state might differ from the general law of this article.

References:

Huffpost. “Dementia Care Is A Lucrative Business. Its Breakneck Growth Is Costing Patients’ Safety.” (accessed November 8, 2019) https://www.huffpost.com/entry/assisted-living-dementia-injuries_b_5c1d6f88e4b04aa0a171b895

How to Manage the Cost of Long Term Care

A single woman has seen her annual premiums for long-term care rise by more than 60% over the last six years. Her cost in 2018 was $2,721, up from $1,626 in 2013. She’s keeping her policy, reports CNBC in the article “Long-term care insurance costs are way up. How advisors can help clients cope”

For her, the price she is paying is worth the cost. However, these types of increases can take older individuals off guard, especially if they are living on a fixed income.

Last year, Genworth Financial received 120 approvals by state regulators to increase premiums on their long-term care insurance business. The weighted average rate increase was 45%. General Electric said earlier this year that it expects to raise premiums on its LTC policies by $1.7 billion in the next ten years. Insurers hold between $160 to $180 billion in LTC reserves, covering 6 to 7 million people, according to estimates from Fitch Ratings.

Elder care has also become increasingly expensive. The annual national median cost of a private room in a nursing home was $100,375 in 2018, according to Genworth Financial. The annual national median cost of a home health care aide was $50,336 in 2018.

Insurers entering the business in the 1990s and early 2000s didn’t anticipate that so many policyholders would continue to pay their premiums and eventually file claims. Fewer than 1% of policyholders have let their policies lapse, and this caught many companies off guard.

Low interest rates have also hurt overall profitability for the insurance companies.

About 40% of the bonds held in insurance companies’ general accounts had a maturity of more than 20 years at purchase, said the American Council of Life Insurers.

There are a few ways to tweak benefits to keep premiums more affordable, while continuing to have this essential coverage.

Daily Benefit. Policies sold in 2015 had an average daily benefit of $259. Paring down the daily benefit could keep premiums down.

Benefit Period. Insurance contracts sold in the 1990s and early 2000 could pay out for the remainder of a client’s life. Reducing that period to five or ten years could make premiums lower.

Inflation Protection. Inflation riders help stay ahead of the rising cost of care. For older policyholders, this might reduce the inflation protection.

Waiting Period. Most policies have a waiting period before benefits will be received. Adjusting this period of time might reduce benefits.

Policyholders are advised to speak with the insurance company directly, instead of relying on the premium increase notices. This may reveal more options that can be used to reduce the premiums, without sacrificing too much in the way of coverage. If you do not have long-term care insurance, there may still be options. Speak with a qualified elder law attorney to see if there are options available to you.

Reference: CNBC (September 8, 2019) “Long-term care insurance costs are way up. How advisors can help clients cope”