Can I Get a Tax Break for Long-Term Care?

The skyrocketing costs of long-term care (LTC) can ruin your retirement savings. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 27% of Americans turning 65 this year will have at least $100,000 in long-term-care costs, and 18% will require care costing more than $250,000. However, the IRS allows some limited tax breaks on medical expenses and insurance premiums related to long-term care.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Deduct Expenses for Long-Term Care on Your Tax Return” says that if you need LTC, you may be able to deduct a portion of the costs on your tax return. If you purchased a long-term-care insurance (LTCI) policy to cover the costs, you may also be able to deduct some of your premium payments. Since retirement planning includes long-term care, it’s important to know how these tax deductions can help to offset overall costs.

Long-Term-Care Costs

The IRS allows you to deduct unreimbursed costs for long-term care as a medical expense, if certain requirements are met. This includes eligible expenses for in-home, assisted living and nursing-home services. The long-term care must be medically necessary and may include preventive, therapeutic, treating, rehabilitative, personal care, or other services. The cost of meals and lodging at an assisted-living facility or nursing home is also included, if the primary reason for being there is to receive qualified medical care.

The care must also be for a chronically ill person and provided under a care plan prescribed by a doctor. The IRS says that a person is “chronically ill,” if he or she can’t perform at least two activities of daily living. These are things like eating, bathing, or dressing. They must be unable to do these without help for at least 90 days. This condition must be certified in writing within the last year. A person with a severe cognitive impairment, like dementia, is also considered chronically ill, if supervision is needed to protect his or her health and safety.

To get the deduction, you have to itemize deductions on your tax return. However, itemized deductions for medical expenses are only allowed to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.

An adult child can claim a medical expense deduction on his own tax return for the cost of a parent’s care, if he can claim the parent as a dependent.

Insurance Premiums

The IRS also allows a limited deduction for certain LTCI premiums. Similar to the deduction for long-term-care services, this has to be an itemized deduction for medical expenses. Again, only premiums exceeding the 7.5% of AGI threshold are deductible. (Note that self-employed individuals may be able to deduct premiums paid for LTCI as an adjustment to income without having to itemize.)

In addition, the LTCI policy is required to satisfy certain requirements for the premiums to be deductible. The policy can only cover long-term-care services, so the deduction only applies to traditional LTCI policies, not “hybrid” policies that combine life insurance with long-term-care benefits. This deduction also has an age-related cap. For 2021, the cap is $5,640 if you’re older than 70, $4,520 if you’re 61 to 70 and $1,690 if you’re 51 to 60. (For those 41 to 50, it’s $850, and for 40 or younger, it’s $450.)

These deductions can be valuable for people in their seventies and older.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 23, 2021) “Deduct Expenses for Long-Term Care on Your Tax Return”

Do I Make Too Much Money for Medicaid?

A 73-year-old single retiree is collecting Social Security and a small state pension. He recently was told that he probably collects too much money to be eligible for Medicaid assistance to help with any kind of long-term care, if it was required in the future. He owns a house with a mortgage.

What options does he have, except for buying a long-term care insurance policy, which may be extremely expensive at his age.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “I think I make too much money for Medicaid. What can I do?” says that there are some steps a person can take. However, it may take time before these actions will help your situation.

Medicaid has a five-year lookback. Therefore, if the Medicaid applicant gave away all of his assets this year and went into a nursing home expecting Medicaid to pay, the program would “look back” over five years at what he owned. The program can claw back what it spends on the applicant.

But just because you are not eligible for Medicaid and its long-term care benefits today, that does not mean that you will not be eligible in the future.

That is because even if your income is above the limit, you still might be able to qualify for Medicaid, if you have significant medical expenses.

In order to qualify financially, you need to have very limited resources.

In many states, for long-term care, an applicant’s assets cannot be more than a certain amount, such as $2,000 if you are single. However, not all property counts towards the resource limit. A home may be exempt, if it is your primary residence and worth less than the limit.

One option is a reverse mortgage which would free up some of the equity in the home to use towards a long-term care insurance policy.

Long term care policies can still be issued for people in their 70s, but the premiums will be higher than if you had enrolled 10 or 20 years ago. However, it is still an option and would keep the retiree in his home.

There are also a number of federal and state-funded programs that make it easier for seniors to live in the community and in their homes as long as possible.

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Reference: nj.com (March 11, 2021) “I think I make too much money for Medicaid. What can I do?”

Can Mom Live in the Backyard?

When one Georgia senior thought about moving closer to her daughter in an Atlanta suburb, she realized she couldn’t afford to buy a home.

Therefore, her daughter researched building a cottage in her own backyard. This fall, they made a deposit on a Craftsman-style design by a local architect who will manage the project from permits to completion. The 429-square-foot home will have one bedroom and bathroom, a galley kitchen and living area and a covered porch.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “A Retirement Home Is a Tiny House in the Kids’ Backyard” reports that driven by an aging population and a scarcity of affordable housing, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are a new trend in multigenerational living. These units are also known as in-law suites, garage apartments, carriage houses, casitas and “granny flats.” Freddie Mac found the share of for-sale listings with an ADU rose 8.6% year-over-year since 2009.

Homes such as these can be created by finishing a basement or attic, converting a garage, reconfiguring unused space, adding on, custom-building a detached unit, or installing a prefab. This unit can also be a source of rental income. A homeowner could also use it to house a parent, child or caregiver; downsize into it themselves to rent the main house; or make it into an office or guest quarters.

Converting existing space is less expensive than building a detached unit. A prefab ADU is cheaper and quicker to install than one built on site. However, a custom project allows you to include aging-in-place features, like a step-free entry, wider doorways and a handicapped accessible shower.

An ADU also allows seniors some privacy, so they’ll feel at home, rather than a visitor or intruder. You might add a private entrance and soundproofing to the shared walls of an in-law suite. Sitting areas indoors and outdoors will let you or a parent enjoy solitude, entertain friends without asking for permission and avoid feeling locked in.

Prior to using your nest egg to create an ADU on a child’s property, think about the way in which you’ll pay for the care you will inevitably need someday. You can’t sell the ADU to raise funds and renting it out after you’ve moved elsewhere is unlikely to cover the cost of your care.

In addition, note that if a parent gives a child money to build an ADU within the look-back period when applying for Medicaid, they may be penalized with delayed coverage.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 31, 2020) “A Retirement Home Is a Tiny House in the Kids’ Backyard”

 

What are Most Common Side Effects of COVID-19 Vaccines?

AARP’s recent article entitled “What Are the Side Effects of COVID-19 Vaccines?” reports that the FDA says the most common side effects among participants in both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Phase 3 clinical trials were the following:

  • Injection site pain
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Joint pain; and
  • Fever.

These reactions are temporary and will “self-resolve” within a few days.

Side effects from vaccines aren’t uncommon. For example, the seasonal flu shot can cause fever and fatigue, or reactions.

Doctors say that a mild to moderate reaction is a good thing because it shows that the immune system is responding to the vaccine. However, the key, experts say, is temporary discomfort versus the long-term benefits of a potentially high level of protection from COVID-19, a disease that’s responsible for the deaths of more than 1.6 million people globally.

Federal analyses of both vaccine trials show that few adverse events, which the CDC defines as any health problem that happens after a shot (separate from the less serious side effects), were reported. There have been a few people who’ve reported severe allergic reactions — known as anaphylaxis —after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. As a result, the CDC is recommending that anyone who has ever had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine not get it. The ingredients of authorized vaccines are on the FDA’s website. Talk to your doctor, if you have questions and keep in mind that serious reactions are relatively rare.

People must continue their prevention efforts to help slow the spread of the disease: mask wearing, social distancing and frequent handwashing. Note that it typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity to a disease after vaccination, so it’s possible you can get sick with COVID-19 even after you’ve been vaccinated. Experts also aren’t certain if the vaccines also block transmission of the virus.

Remember that it takes time to build up herd immunity, where enough of the population is protected from the virus that transmission slows significantly. Scientists aren’t sure what the magic number is to obtain herd immunity for COVID-19, but they think it’s around 70% of the population, which could take months to achieve through vaccination.

Reference: AARP (Dec. 21, 2020) “What Are the Side Effects of COVID-19 Vaccines?”

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Could a Polar Bear Plunge Help with Dementia?

A “cold-shock” protein has been discovered in the blood of regular winter swimmers at London’s Parliament Hill Lido. The protein has been shown to retard the onset of dementia and even repair some of the damage it causes in mice, according to a report in the BBC’s recent article entitled “Could cold water hold a clue to a dementia cure?”

Professor Giovanna Mallucci, who runs the United Kingdom Dementia Research Institute’s Centre at the University of Cambridge, says the discovery could help scientists with new drug treatments that may help hold dementia at bay. The research, while encouraging, is at an early stage and focuses on the hibernation ability that all mammals retain, which is prompted by exposure to cold.

The link with dementia lies in the destruction and creation of synapses, which are the connections between cells in the brain. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s and other neuro-degenerative diseases, these brain connections are lost. Mallucci saw that brain connections are lost when hibernating animals, like bears, bed down for their winter sleep, but that roughly 20-30% of their synapses are culled as their bodies preserve precious resources for winter. When they awake in the spring, those connections are reformed.

The shock of entering cold water results in a significant increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which can cause heart attacks and strokes in those with underlying illnesses. This also creates a gasp reflex and rapid breathing, which can lead to drowning, if water is inhaled.

Don’t try a plunge without consulting a doctor.

When researching this treatment in mice, scientists found that levels of a “cold-shock” protein called RBM3 soared in the ordinary mice, but not in the others. This suggested RBM3 could be the key to the formation of new connections. Mallucci proved the link in a separate experiment which showed brain cell deaths in Alzheimer’s and prion disease could be prevented by artificially boosting RBM3 levels in mice. This was a major breakthrough in dementia research, and their findings were published in the scientific journal Nature.

Professor Mallucci contends that a drug which prompted the production of RBM3 might help slow—and possibly even partially reverse—the progress of some neuro-degenerative diseases in people. RBM3 hadn’t been seen in human blood, so the obvious next step was to find out whether the protein is present in humans.

It’s hard to get people to become hypothermic by choice, but Martin Pate and his group of Londoners who swim throughout the winter at the unheated open-air London Parliament Hill Lido pool voluntarily made themselves hypothermic on a regular basis, so he thought they’d be ideal subjects of a study.

The tests showed that a significant number of the swimmers had markedly elevated levels of RBM3. All of them become hypothermic, with core temperatures as low as 93.2F. A control group of Tai Chi participants who practice beside the pool but never actually swim, showed no increase in RBM3 levels nor had they experienced very low body temperatures.

The risks associated with getting cold outweigh any potential benefits, so cold water immersion isn’t a potential dementia treatment. The key is to find a drug that stimulates the production of the protein in humans and to show that it really does help delay dementia.

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Reference: BBC (Oct. 19, 2020) “Could cold water hold a clue to a dementia cure?”

Little Things Add Years to Your Life

Get moving, says a 20-year study conducted with nearly 15,000 residents of the United Kingdom age 40 to 79. Considerable’s recent article entitled “This small lifestyle change can add years to your life” explains that the subjects who kept or increased to a medium level of activity were 28% less likely to die than those who stayed at a low level of activity.

The research was conducted by the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, and the results were published in The British Medical Journal.

The researchers split the sample into three groups who engaged in low, medium, and high levels of activity. They monitored changes to their activity for about eight years. Then they looked at the health effects over the next 12½ years.

The researchers found that those who stayed or increased their level of activity from low to medium were 28% less likely to die during that second phase than those who kept a low level of activity.

Moreover, those subjects who’d been moderately active but raised their activity level achieved a significant 42% increase in survival, compared to the low-activity subjects.

This impact was present even for those respondents who ate an unhealthy diet or had experienced a health condition, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or obesity.

So, the big question is just how much activity is required?

The study defined the activity levels according to the following guidelines:

  • Low: Less than the guideline of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity
  • Medium: achieving the guideline of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week; and
  • High: The guideline of 300 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly activity.

The high level also allowed for an equivalent, like 75 weekly minutes of high-intensity activity, or 60 minutes of high-intensity activity and 30 minutes of medium-intensity activity per week.

The researchers think that their study will motivate more people to take it up a notch, regardless of their age.

“These results are encouraging, not least for middle aged and older adults with existing cardiovascular disease and cancer, who can still gain substantial longevity benefits by becoming more active, lending further support to the broad public health benefits of physical activity,” the authors commented.

Reference: Considerable (Sep. 22, 2020) “This small lifestyle change can add years to your life”

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Can a Power of Attorney Protect My Assets as I Get Older?

Elder law attorneys help protect individuals as they grow older and then protect their beneficiaries when they pass away.

The Street’s recent article entitled “Guide to Protect Your Assets as You Age – Power of Attorneys” asks us to think about visiting your family doctor for the last 30 years but then needing to see a specialist for the first time. That’s because your family doctor isn’t a specialist, and they might miss something. The article explains that elder law attorneys are the specialists of the legal profession—they take a fresh look at a client’s situation and develop strategies to protect them and their families from the risks as we grow older.

Elder law attorneys show you how to protect yourself and your family. When partnering with an elder law attorney, they make certain that your estate goes to your family as you intended, with little or no tax liability.

An important tool for elder law attorneys is the Power of Attorney (POA). There are two of them: a medical POA and a financial POA. These allow you to designate a trusted agent to make your medical and financial decisions, when you are unable.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has placed everyone in difficult circumstances. As a result, many hospitalized patients are without the proper estate planning documents. While things are letting up some, hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living homes have shuttered their doors to visitors and non-essential workers in an attempt to minimize the spread of this disease. As a result, many patients are unable to get these documents signed.

Although some states initially prevented electronic signatures and notarization that would keep contact to a minimum, many have now permitted patients access to elder law and estate planning attorneys, when needed. These states have signed executive orders that allow for electronic signatures, which has been a huge help. Even so, this can be challenging for an elder individual.

Financial powers of attorney are not all the same either. They are just one tool in the toolbox.

A power of attorney can have a list of things you will permit your designated agent to do for you. Many of these documents do not give your agent enough power to protect you. That’s because they limit your agent’s abilities. That may sound good when you first sign them, but the result is that it makes things harder for your family, if you have a stroke and your loved one needs to protect your finances.

Reference: The Street (Sep. 24, 2020) “Guide to Protect Your Assets as You Age – Power of Attorneys”

Visiting Grandma at the Nursing Home

In spots where visits have resumed, they’re much changed from those before the pandemic. Nursing homes must take steps to minimize the chance of further transmission of COVID-19. The virus has been found in about 11,600 long-term care facilities, causing more than 56,000 deaths, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

AARP’s recent article entitled “When Can Visitors Return to Nursing Homes?” explains that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has provided benchmarks for state and local officials to use, in deciding when visitors can return and how to safeguard against new outbreaks of COVID-19 when they do. The CMS guidelines are broad and nonbinding, and there will be differences, from state to state and nursing home to nursing home, regarding when visits resume and how they are handled. Here are some details about the next steps toward reuniting with family members in long-term care.

When will visits resume? As of mid-July, 30 states permitted nursing homes to proceed with outdoor visits with strict rules for distancing, monitoring and hygiene. The CMS guidelines suggest that nursing homes continue prohibiting any visitation, until they have gone at least 28 days without a new COVID-19 case originating on-site (as opposed to a facility admitting a coronavirus patient from a hospital). CMS says that these facilities should also meet several additional benchmarks, which include:

  • a decline in cases in the surrounding community
  • the ability to provide all residents with a baseline COVID-19 test and weekly tests for staff
  • enough supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning and disinfecting products; and
  • no staff shortages.

Where visits are permitted, it should be only by appointment and in specified hours. In some states, only one or two people can visit a particular resident at a time. Even those states allowing indoor visits are suggesting that families meet loved ones outdoors. Research has shown that the virus spreads less in open air.

Health checks on visitors. The federal guidelines call for everyone entering a facility to undergo 100% screening. However, the CMS recommendations don’t address testing visitors for COVID-19.

Masks. The federal guidelines say visitors should be required to “wear a cloth face covering or face mask for the duration of their visit,” and states that allow visitation are doing so. The guidelines also ask nursing homes to make certain that visitors practice hand hygiene. However, it doesn’t say whether facilities should provide masks or sanitizer.

Social distancing. The CMS guidelines call on nursing homes that allow visitors to ensure social distancing, but they don’t provide details. States that have permitted visits, state that facilities enforce the 6-foot rule.

Virtual visits. Another option is to make some visits virtual. Videoconferencing and chat platforms have become lifelines for residents and families during the pandemic. Continued use after the lockdowns can minimize opportunities for illness to spread.

Reference: AARP (July 22, 2020) “When Can Visitors Return to Nursing Homes?”

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Can I Get Paid to Be a Caregiver for a Family Member Who’s a Vet?

AARP’s recent article entitled “Can I Get Paid to Be a Caregiver for a Family Member?” says that you may be able to get paid to be a family caregiver, if you’re caring for a veteran. Veterans have four plans for which they may qualify.

Veteran Directed Care. Similar to Medicaid’s self-directed care program, this plan lets qualified former service members manage their own long-term services and supports. Veteran Directed Care is available in 37 states, DC, and Puerto Rico for veterans of all ages, who are enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration health care system and require the level of care a nursing facility provides but want to live at home or the home of a loved one. A flexible budget (about $2,200 a month) lets vets choose the goods and services they find most useful, including a caregiver to assist with activities of daily living. The vet chooses the caregiver and may select any physically and mentally capable family member, including a child, grandchild, sibling, or spouse.

Aid and Attendance (A&A) Benefits. This program supplements a military pension to help with the expense of a caregiver, and this can be a family member. A&A benefits are available to veterans who qualify for VA pensions and meet at least one of the following criteria. The veteran:

  • Requires help from another to perform everyday personal functions, such as bathing, dressing, and eating
  • Is confined to bed because of disability
  • Is in a nursing home because of physical or mental incapacity; or
  • Has very limited eyesight, less than 5/200 acuity in both eyes, even with corrective lenses or a significantly contracted visual field.

Surviving spouses of qualifying veterans may also be eligible for this benefit.

Housebound Benefits. Veterans who get a military pension and are substantially confined to their immediate premises because of permanent disability are able to apply for a monthly pension supplement. It’s the same application process as for A&A benefits, but you can’t get both housebound and A&A benefits simultaneously.

Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. This program gives a monthly stipend to family members, who serve as caregivers for vets who require help with everyday activities because of a traumatic injury sustained in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The vet must be enrolled in VA health services and require either personal care related to everyday activities or supervision or protection, because of conditions sustained after 9/11. The caretaker must be an adult child, parent, spouse, stepfamily member, extended family member or full-time housemate of the veteran.

For more information about this or other elder law subjects, click here.

Reference: AARP (May 15, 2020) “Can I Get Paid to Be a Caregiver for a Family Member?”

 

How Else Can Nursing Homes Be Impacted by COVID-19?

Lack of funding is a big issue for nursing homes.“You layer COVID on top of that and… it’s a crisis on top of a crisis,” David Grabowski, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, told Yahoo Finance. “And that you started with a lot of nursing homes that didn’t have adequate staffing models, weren’t exactly strong at infection control, lacked resources in many, many regards, and then this hits, it’s definitely the industry.”

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “U.S. nursing homes face ‘a crisis on top of a crisis’ with coronavirus and funding woes” explains that the nursing home industry has been facing a financial shortfall since at least 2013, particularly for non-Medicare margins, according to the American Health Care Association (AHCA). Non-Medicare margins are the revenues and costs associated with Medicaid and private payers for all lines of business. They dropped 3% in 2018, an increase from the year prior.

“Over 60% of people in the country that live in nursing facilities are dependent upon Medicaid,” AHCA President and CEO Mark Parkinson told Yahoo Finance. “And unfortunately, in most states, the Medicaid rates have been set at less than the actual cost to take care of the residents. So, it makes it very difficult to provide the kind of care that providers want when they’re underfunded so dramatically.”

In addition, Parkinson commented, “most of the people don’t understand that Medicaid is really a middle-class benefit, because if people live long enough to outlive their resources, it’s the only way that they can afford to be taken care of in a facility.”

Medicaid is a federal benefits program that gives health coverage to seniors, pregnant women, children, people with disabilities and eligible low-income adults. However, the federal government permits states to level the payment amounts long as they meet federal requirements.

“The failure to adequately fund Medicaid is primarily a problem with the states,” Parkinson said. “Each state gets to make its own decision on what its reimbursement will be for Medicaid. Although the national average is around $200 a day, the rate varies dramatically by states, and some states are as low as less than $150 a day. In the low funding states, like Illinois and Texas, the politicians just haven’t decided it’s an important enough priority to adequately fund it.”

According to the New York Times, COVID-19 has infected more than 282,000 people at about 12,000 facilities as of June 26. It has killed more than 54,000. There are roughly 15,600 nursing homes in the U.S., with more than 1.3 million residents and over 1.6 million staff.

“It’s important to note that COVID hasn’t discriminated, so it’s not just those worst-quality nursing homes that have seen cases,” Grabowski said. “It’s been equally apparent across the high quality and low-quality facilities, high Medicaid and low Medicaid facilities. We’ve found that it’s really about where you’re located that has driven these cases.”

Adding to the financial situation is the fact that testing for coronavirus in the thousands of nursing homes across the country can be very expensive. The AHCA and National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) found that testing every U.S. nursing home resident and staff member just once, would cost $440 million. As the pandemic continues, more supplies are also needed. A recent NCAL survey found that many assisted living communities are running low on PPE (N95 masks, surgical face masks, face shields, gowns, and gloves).

Parkinson says, it’s a “failure to recognize the importance of the elderly. It’s a conscious political decision to underfund elder care,” he said. “It’s not defensible on any level, but it’s occurring in the vast majority of states.”

He went on to say that with more funding, nursing homes can be better prepared for the next health crisis.

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Reference: Yahoo Finance (June 30, 2020) “U.S. nursing homes face ‘a crisis on top of a crisis’ with coronavirus and funding woes”