What Worries Retirees the Most?

Retirees don’t want to run out of money. However, homeowners over 62 who have considerable equity in their homes may want to look at a strategy that can minimize their money anxiety. A reverse mortgage will let them tap into home equity, by providing funds to keep them financially stable. Could the reverse mortgage payments take a bite out of their Social Security or Medicare benefits?

Motley Fool’s recent article asks, “Can a Reverse Mortgage Impact Your Social Security or Medicare Benefits?” The article explains that reverse mortgages, also called home equity conversion mortgages (HECM), were created in 1980 to help seniors stay solvent, while remaining in their homes.

You know that in a regular mortgage, you pay the bank monthly installments. However, with a reverse mortgage, the bank pays you. You take out money against the equity in your home, and the loan doesn’t come due until you sell the home, move out of it, or die. The amount you can get is based on a formula that takes into account your age, the equity in your home, its market value and the interest rate you’ll be paying. You can get your reverse mortgage funds as a lump sum, a monthly payment, or a line of credit.

There are some drawbacks to a reverse mortgage. This type of loan can have big fees, including origination fees, closing costs (similar to a regular mortgage) and mortgage insurance premiums.  These fees can usually be rolled into the loan. It will, however, increase the amount the bank is entitled to receive once the loan ends.

A reverse mortgage isn’t for you, if you want to leave your home to your family. Perhaps they can pay off the balance of your HECM once you die or move out, but that could be costly. If you want to sell it (perhaps to simplify the splitting up of that inheritance), the share your heirs will receive from the proceeds may not be as much as you’d anticipated. If you’re having a hard time keeping up with the day-to-day costs of running the house, a reverse mortgage may not be the best option. However, if you’re just looking to add to your retirement income for peace of mind, it’s a decent financial planning tool to consider.

The good news is that it has no impact on your Social Security benefits, because the program is not means-tested. Therefore, the amount of income you have won’t affect your monthly benefit when you file. As a result, you don’t need to take Social Security into account when you’re thinking about this type of loan.

Likewise, Medicare is a non-means-tested program. However, a reverse mortgage can have an impact on Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, because those are based on your current financial assets. If you’re receiving either of those, talk to an elder law attorney or estate planning attorney to discuss how a reverse mortgage might have an effect on your specific circumstances.

Reference: Motley Fool (November 1, 2019) “Can a Reverse Mortgage Impact Your Social Security or Medicare Benefits?”

How Does Traveling While on Medicare Work?

CNBC’s recent article, “Planning to travel while on Medicare? Make sure you have coverage at your destination” explains that basic Medicare—which includes Part A (hospital coverage) and Part B (outpatient care)—typically doesn’t cover any medical costs outside of the U.S. and its territories. There are a few Medicare Advantage Plans that cover emergency services overseas, as well as some Medigap plans that also offer protection.

If you’re on Medicare, your coverage away from home depends partly on your destination and if you’re on basic Medicare or receive your benefits through an Advantage Plan. This also can depend on whether the health care you get is routine or due to an emergency.

Travel medical insurance can be the solution to gaps in coverage, but it’s good to first determine whether you need it. Remember that original Medicare consists of Part A and Part B. Retirees who opt to stay with just this coverage—instead of going with an Advantage Plan—typically pair their coverage with a stand-alone prescription-drug plan (Part D). If you fit in this situation, your coverage while traveling in the U.S. and its territories is fairly simple. You can go to any physician or hospital that accepts Medicare, regardless of the type of visit.

However, when you journey beyond U.S. borders, things get more complex.

Generally, Medicare doesn’t provide any coverage when you’re not in the U.S, with a couple of exceptions. These include if you’re on a ship within the territorial waters adjoining the country within six hours of a U.S. port or you’re traveling from state to state but the closest hospital to treat you is in a foreign country. As an example, think a trip to Alaska via Canada from the 48 contiguous states.

Roughly a third of retirees on original Medicare also buy supplemental coverage through a Medigap policy (but you can’t pair Medigap with an Advantage Plan). Those policies, which are standardized in every state, vary in price and offer coverage for the cost-sharing parts of Medicare, like copays and co-insurance. There are some Medigap policies—Plans C, D, F, G, M and N—that offer coverage for travel. You pay a $250 annual deductible and then 20% of costs up to a lifetime maximum of $50,000. However, that may not go very far, depending on the type of medical services you need.

There’s also no overseas coverage through a Part D prescription drug plan, and Medigap policies don’t cover any costs related to Part D, whether you’re in the U.S. or not. For seniors who get their Medicare benefits—Parts A, B and typically D—through an Advantage Plan, it’s a good idea to review your coverage, even if you’re not leaving the U.S. any time soon. These plans must cover your emergency care anywhere in the U.S., but you may have to pay for routine care outside of their service area or you’ll pay more.

Some Advantage Plans may also have coverage for emergencies overseas, so review your policy. Whether you have an Advantage Plan or original Medicare, travel medical insurance might be a good move if you think your existing coverage isn’t enough. The options are priced based on your age, the length of the coverage and the amount. In addition to providing coverage for necessary health services, a policy usually includes coverage for non-medical required evacuation, lost luggage and dental care required due to an injury.

There’s coverage for a single trip of a couple weeks or several months, or you can buy a multi-trip policy, which could cover a longer time period.

It’s also important to know if your policy covers pre-existing conditions, since some don’t. You should also be aware that some Advantage Plans might disenroll you, if you stay outside of their service area for a certain time, usually six months. In that situation, you’d be switched to original Medicare. If you are disenrolled, you’d have to wait for a special enrollment period to get another Advantage Plan.

Reference: CNBC (July 14, 2019) “Planning to travel while on Medicare? Make sure you have coverage at your destination”

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”

How Much Will Long-Term Care Cost?

The recent article from MarketWatch, “This is how much long-term care could cost you, and don’t expect Medicare to help,” reports that most people over 65 will eventually need help with daily living tasks, like bathing, eating, or dressing. Men will need assistance for an average of 2.2 years, and women will need it for 3.7 years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging.

Many will rely on unpaid care from spouses or children, but over a third will spend time in a nursing home, where the median annual cost of a private room is now more than $100,000, according to insurer Genworth’s 2018 Cost of Care Survey. Four out of ten will choose paid care at home; the median annual cost of a home health aide is more than $50,000. Finally, more than 50% of people over 65 will incur long-term care costs, and 15% will incur more than $250,000 in costs, according to a study by Vanguard Research and Mercer Health and Benefits.

Note that Medicare and private health insurance typically don’t cover these “custodial” expenses. This means that such costs can quickly deplete the $126,000 median retirement savings for people age 65 to 74. People who exhaust their savings could wind up on Medicaid, the government health program for the indigent that pays for about half of all nursing home and custodial care.

People who live alone, are in poor health, or who have a family history of chronic conditions are more likely to require long-term care. Women face special risks, since they typically outlive their husbands and, as a result, may not have anyone to provide them with unpaid care. If husbands require paid care that erases all of the couple’s savings, women could have years or even decades of living on nothing but Social Security.

The earlier you start planning, the more choice and control you’ll have. Let’s look at some of the options:

Long-term care insurance. The average annual premium for a 55-year-old couple was $3,050 in 2019, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance. Premiums are higher for older people, and those with chronic conditions might not be eligible. Policies typically cover part of long-term care costs for a defined period, like three years.

Hybrid long-term care insurance. With life insurance or annuities with long-term care benefits, money that isn’t used for long-term care can be left to your heirs. These products typically require you to commit large sums or are paid in installments over 5 to 10 years, although some now have “lifetime pay” options.

Home equity. People who move permanently into a nursing home may be able to sell their houses to help fund the care. Reverse mortgages may be an option, if one member of a couple remains in the home. This type of loan lets them use their home equity. However, it must be repaid if the owners die, sold, or they must move out.

Contingency reserve. People with a great deal of investments could plan on using some of those assets for long-term care. Their investments can produce income, until there’s a need for long-term care, and then can be sold to pay for a nursing home or home health aide.

Medicaid spend-down. Those who don’t have much saved or who face a catastrophic long-term care cost that cleans out their entire savings, could wind up applying for Medicaid. Ask an elder law attorney about ways to protect, at least some assets for your spouse.

Reference: MarketWatch (July 19, 2019) “This is how much long-term care could cost you, and don’t expect Medicare to help”

How Can I Avoid a Retirement Home and Live at Home?

Staying at home requires planning. The sooner you begin, the more prepared you’ll be, even if you’re around at 102.

The Washington Post’s article, “Aging in place helps you to avoid a retirement community or nursing home,” explains that there’s plenty of work to do.

You might start by remodeling or retrofitting your home to suit senior-specific issues, such as decreased mobility or impaired eyesight (think replacing a bathtub with a walk-in shower or improved lighting). Some seniors add a first-floor bedroom and bathroom and an outdoor ramp onto their homes. Other changes can include wider doorways (the better to potentially accommodate a wheelchair or walker), a bathroom with grab bars and an easy-access shower.

This is known as universal design, which means building or remodeling a home to accommodate all ages and abilities. It can usually be implemented or planned by builders or contractors who are Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS), an educational designation offered by the National Association of Home Builders.

Even if you can’t afford a major remodel, there are some simple changes you can do, like installing shower grab bars or improving interior and exterior lighting to avoid falls and other accidents. You can also secure throw rugs to the floor with special two-sided tape to prevent slips.

You can speak with an elder law attorney about health agencies, resources for financial assistance, elder abuse prevention, as well as estate planning, Medicare, Medicaid and other state programs.

Keep busy by taking yoga at the local rec center, business or computer classes at the public library, or even getting a roommate to help combat loneliness and keep feeling connected and emotionally healthy.

For dining, in addition to the community-based food delivery from Meals on Wheels, you can get restaurant food or groceries delivered to your home by services, such as Uber Eats, Caviar and Peapod.

There are also a number of meal prep companies—Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and others—that make it easier to put a healthy meal on the table, without the need to journey to the grocery store.

Reference: Washington Post (July 1, 2019) “Aging in place helps you to avoid a retirement community or nursing home”

What’s Going on in Congress with Alzheimer’s Legislation?

McKnight’s Senior Living reports in the article “Bill would aid those with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease” that Senate Bill 901, also known as the “Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Act,” was introduced in the Senate by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), chairman of the committee, Senator Bob Casey, ranking member, and Senators Doug Jones (D-AL) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). Representatives Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Pete King (R-NY), David Trone (D-MD), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced the bill as H.R. 1903 in the House of Representatives.

Nutritional programs, supportive services, transportation, legal services, elder-abuse prevention and caregiver support have been available through the OAA since 1965. However, under the current law, only individuals over 60 are eligible.

“These programs would make a huge difference in the lives of individuals living with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, who don’t have support services available to them,” said hearing witness Mary Dysart Hartt of Hampden, ME, a caregiver to her husband, Mike, who has younger-onset Alzheimer’s.

About 200,000 individuals aged less than 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, according to hearing witness Clay Jacobs, executive director of the Greater Pennsylvania Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, North Abington Township, PA.

“The need to reach everyone affected will grow significantly in the coming years,” he said.

Senator Collins was a founder and co-chair of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease. She noted that she and Casey are leading this year’s OAA reauthorization efforts.

Senator Collins said she was also introducing the “Lifespan Respite Care Act” with Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) Tuesday “to help communities and states provide respite care for families.” This legislation would earmark $20 million for fiscal year 2020, with funding increasing by $10 million annually to reach $60 million for fiscal year 2024. The program lets full-time caregivers take a temporary break from their responsibilities of caring for aging or disabled family members.

“Whenever I ask family caregivers, which included my own mother, about their greatest needs, the number one request that I hear is for more respite care,” Senator Collins said.

Reference: McKnight’s Senior Living (April 3, 2019) “Bill would aid those with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease”

How Do I Cash in My Life Insurance Policy?

There are some drawbacks to using life insurance to meet immediate cash needs, especially if you’re compromising your long-term goals or your family’s financial future. Investopedia’s recent article “Cashing in Your Life Insurance Policy” says that if other options are not available, life insurance—especially cash-value life insurance—can be a source of needed income.

Cash-value life insurance, like whole life and universal life, builds reserves through excess premiums plus earnings. These deposits are held in a cash-accumulation account within the policy. You can access cash accumulations within the policy through withdrawals, policy loans, or partial or full surrender of the policy. Another alternative is selling your policy for cash, known as a life settlement. Note that although cash from the policy might be useful during stressful financial times, you could face unwanted consequences, depending on the method you use to access the funds.

You can usually withdraw limited cash from a life insurance policy, based on the type of policy you own and the insurance company. The big advantage is that the withdrawals aren’t taxable up to your policy basis, as long as your policy isn’t classified as a modified endowment contract (MEC). However, these can have unexpected or unrealized consequences. Withdrawals that decrease your cash value, could cause a reduction in your death benefits. This is a potential source of funds you or your family might need for income replacement, business purposes or wealth preservation. Cash-value withdrawals also aren’t always tax-free. If you take a withdrawal during the first 15 years of the policy, and the withdrawal causes a reduction in the policy’s death benefit, some or all of the withdrawn cash could be subject to tax. Withdrawals are treated as taxable, to the extent that they exceed your basis in the policy.

Withdrawals that reduce your cash surrender value could mean higher premiums to maintain the same death benefit, or the policy could lapse.

If your policy is determined to be an MEC, withdrawals are taxed, according to the rules applicable to annuities–cash disbursements are considered to be made from interest first and are subject to income tax and possibly a 10% early-withdrawal penalty, if you’re under age 59½ at the time of the withdrawal. Policy loans are treated as distributions, so the amount of the loan up to the earnings in the policy will be taxable and could also be subject to the pre-59½ early-withdrawal penalty.

Surrendering the policy can provide the cash you need, but you’re relinquishing the right to the death-benefit protection. You can sell your life insurance policy to a life settlement company in exchange for cash. The new owner will keep the policy in force (by paying the premiums) and get a return on the investment, by receiving the death benefit when you die.

To qualify for a life settlement, the insured must be at least 65 years old, have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years or less, and usually have a policy death benefit of at least $100,000. However, the taxation of life settlements is complicated. The gain in excess of your basis in the policy is taxed to you as ordinary income. In addition to the tax liability, life settlements usually include up to a 30% in commissions and fees, which reduces the net amount you receive.

If you are interested in learning more about tax planning or how your life insurance policy can affect your estate plan, speak with your local estate planning or elder law attorney.

Reference: Investopedia (January 9, 2019) “Cashing in Your Life Insurance Policy”

When Should I Claim Social Security?

It’s kind of hard to know exactly when you should file for social security—even if you only consider age (which you shouldn’t). You can take your benefits as early as 62. However, the earlier you claim, the less you’ll get. You can delay until 70 and you’ll get 8% more for each year you wait past your full retirement age.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “Social Security Timing Should Be Part of Larger Financial Plan,” notes that some people don’t have much choice and claim at 62, because they need the money. In addition, there’s the question of whether Social Security will be solvent, when it’s time for you to start collecting. There are also those who really don’t give it much thought. They’re tired of working and file before their full retirement age.

Most people like to think there’s some magical calculation that will give them their exact “break-even point,” so they don’t claim too soon or wait too late. You can find this by using calculators provided at www.ssa.gov/planners/calculators/ and www.aarp.org/tools/.

There are several factors that can greatly impact what you, as an individual, actually receive. Consider these points to help you make a smarter decision about when to file:

Health and family history. If you’re unhealthy or have a family history of some illness, you may want to retire and take your benefits as early as possible. However, if you’re healthy and/or most of your family members have had a long life, you may want to delay filing and get the maximum benefit to see you through, what could be a decades-long retirement.

Spouse. If you’re married, one of your primary concerns is what will happen to your spouse, if you die first. When one spouse dies, the lower of the two Social Security payments is eliminated. If you have a pension, based on which survivorship option you choose at retirement, he or she also could lose that income. Therefore, it’s critical to maximize the higher earners benefit when possible, especially if Social Security will be a major part of that income. If the higher earner in the family is one with a poor family history of longevity, you should plan early, if delaying is not an option and you have to claim a smaller benefit.

Taxes. The IRS measures your “provisional income” to determine whether you must pay taxes on your benefits. It’s calculated by adding your adjusted gross income, any tax-free interest you received and half of your Social Security benefits. If the sum is more than the designated threshold ($25,000 and up annually for singles, and $32,000 and up for those married filing jointly), based on your filing status, your Social Security benefits could be taxed up to 50% to 85%. If you’re receiving Social Security and withdrawing from your IRA at the same time, you may pay more in taxes. You might want to wait to claim and withdraw from your tax-deferred accounts at a lower rate.

Other assets. Before you decide to delay claiming to save on taxes or to get a higher Social Security payment in the future, be certain you have enough income to cover your current expenses without drawing too much from your retirement savings. You’ll want to leave some money there to keep growing, in case you need it later in retirement.

Your legacy. If leaving behind something for your children is a priority, you could use your Social Security income for that purpose. You could claim your benefits (which they can’t inherit) and leave more in your IRA (which they can). Or, if you are wealthy and don’t need Social Security to support your lifestyle, you could might claim your Social Security benefits and use that money to purchase life insurance.

Remember that your Social Security filing decision should not be made in a vacuum, but should be an important part of an overall financial plan.

Take your time, think it through and get some help from an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 15, 2019) “Social Security Timing Should Be Part of Larger Financial Plan”

How Do I Prepare my Parents for Alzheimer’s?
Concerned aged mother and adult daughter discuss updating their estate planning documents and explore their options with regards to Alzheimer's

How Do I Prepare my Parents for Alzheimer’s?

Can your mom just sell her house, despite her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s?

The (Bryan TX) Eagle reports in the recent article “MENTAL CLARITY: Shining a light on the capacity to sign Texas documents” that the concept of “mental capacity” is complicated. There’s considerable confusion about incapacity. The article explains that different legal documents have a different degree of required capacity. The bar for signing a Power of Attorney, a Warranty Deed, a Contract, a Divorce Decree, or a Settlement Agreement is a little lower than for signing a Will. The individual signing legal documents must be capable of understanding and appreciating what he or she is signing, as well as the effect of the document.

The answer the question of whether the mom can sign the deed to her house over to the buyer.  is likely “yes.” She must understand that she’s selling her house, and that, once the document is signed, the house will belong to someone else. A terminal diagnosis or a neurodegenerative disease doesn’t automatically mean that an individual can’t sign legal documents. A case-by-case assessment is required to see if the document will be valid.

The fact that a person is unable to write his or her name doesn’t mean they lack capacity. If a senior can’t sign her name (possibly due to tremors or neurodegeneration), she can sign with an “X”. She could place her hand on top of someone else’s and allow the other person to sign her name. If this is completed before witnesses and the notary, that would be legal.

A hard part of Alzheimer’s is that a person’s mental clarity can come and go. Capacity can be fluid in the progress of a neurodegenerative or other terminal disease. Because of this, the best time to sign critical documents is sooner rather than later. No one can say the “window of capacity” will remain open for a certain amount of time.

Some signs should prompt you to move more quickly. These include things like the following:

  • Short-term memory loss;
  • Personality changes (e.g., unusual anger);
  • Confusing up or forgetting common-usage words and names; and
  • Disorientation and changes in depth perception.

Any of the signs above could be caused by Alzheimer’s, dementia, or many other problems. Talk to your, or your parent’s, physician and an elder law attorney. He or she can discuss the options, document your parent’s legal capacity, and get the right documents drafted quickly. Your elder law attorney can also give you information about planning for long term care options to consider and can help you understand the costs associated with long term care.