Charitable Giving Options Under the New Tax Law

The new tax law makes it harder to claim a tax deduction for charitable contributions. While charitable giving should not be only about getting a tax break, if you want to reap a tax benefit from your contributions, there are a couple of options.

The Tax Cut and Jobs Act, enacted in December 2017, nearly doubled the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples. This means that if your charitable contributions along with any other itemized deductions are less than $12,000 a year, the standard deduction will lower your tax bill more than itemizing your deductions. For most people, the standard deduction will be the better option.

If you still want to maximize the tax benefits of charitable giving and you have the financial means, one option is to double your charitable donations in one year and then skip the donation the following year. For example, instead of giving $10,000 a year to charity, you could give $20,000 every other year and itemize your deductions in that year.

Another way to concentrate charitable giving is to establish a donor-advised fund (DAF) through a public charity. A DAF allows you to contribute several years worth of charitable donations to the fund and receive the tax benefit immediately. The money is placed in an account where it can be invested and grow tax-free. You can then make donations to charities from the account at any time, in addition to adding to the account. As with any investment, you need to do research before establishing a DAF. Make sure you understand the fees involved and whether there are any limits on the charitable contributions you can make. You should consult with your financial advisor before taking any steps.

If you are taking required minimum distributions from an IRA, another option is to donate those distributions directly to charity through a qualified charitable donation. The distributions won’t be included in your gross income, which means lower taxes overall. The donation must be made directly from the IRA to the charity and different IRAs have different rules about how to make the distributions.

For more information on how to maximize your charitable giving under the new tax law, click here.

To determine the best way for your family to provide care, consult with one of our elder law attorneys at Pearson Bollman Law.

This article was reprinted with the permission of ElderLawAnswers.com.  If you have any questions regarding the material in this article and how it applies to you, please contact Pearson Bollman Law at 515-727-0986.

Have Private Insurance and Are Turning 65? You Need Sign Up for Medicare Part B

If you are paying for your own insurance, you may think you do not need to sign up for Medicare when you turn 65. However, not signing up for Medicare Part B right away can cost you down the road.

You can first sign up for Medicare during your Initial Enrollment Period, which is the seven-month period that includes the three months before the month you become eligible (usually age 65), the month you are eligible and three months after the month you become eligible. If you do not sign up for Part B right away, you will be subject to a penalty. Your Medicare Part B premium may go up 10 percent for each 12-month period that you could have had Medicare Part B, but did not take it. In addition, you will have to wait for the general enrollment period to enroll. The general enrollment period usually runs between January 1 and March 31 of each year.

There are exceptions to the penalty if you have insurance through an employer or through your spouse’s employer, but there is no exception for private insurance. The health insurance must be from an employer where you or your spouse actively works, and even then, if the employer has fewer than 20 employees, you will likely have to sign up for Part B.

If you don’t have an employer or union group health insurance plan, or that plan is secondary to Medicare, it is extremely important to sign up for Medicare Part B during your initial enrollment period. Note that COBRA coverage does not count as a health insurance plan for Medicare purposes. Neither does retiree coverage or VA benefits.

For a New York Times column about a man with private insurance who didn’t realize he needed to sign up for Part B, click here.

For more information about Medicare and turning 65, click here.

To determine the best way for your family to provide care, consult with one of our elder law attorneys at Pearson Bollman Law.

This article was reprinted with the permission of ElderLawAnswers.com.  If you have any questions regarding the material in this article and how it applies to you, please contact Pearson Bollman Law at 515-727-0986.

How Long Does It Take for An Estate to Be Settled?

My estranged father passed away in November 2016. I am still waiting for the estate to be settled. How long does this generally take?

It shouldn’t take that long. One year is a good rule of thumb. It takes time to take care of all the details, including distributing tangible property – artwork, furniture, family photos, etc. — cleaning out the house or apartment, filing the final tax return, paying off any bills, liquidating investment accounts, and, potentially selling real estate. Where there’s no probate – everything’s in trust, in joint names or has a named beneficiary – it can be quicker. The need to sell real estate or other complications can sometimes make the process take longer.

In any case, the personal representative should be keeping you apprised of developments and be able to let you know when you can anticipate the process to be complete.

To determine the best way for your family to provide care, consult with one of our elder law attorneys at Pearson Bollman Law.

This article was reprinted with the permission of ElderLawAnswers.com.  If you have any questions regarding the material in this article and how it applies to you, please contact Pearson Bollman Law at 515-727-0986.

2019 Spousal Impoverishment and Home Equity Figures Released

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has released its Spousal Impoverishment Standards for 2019, confirming the earlier projections of Pennsylvania ElderLawAnswers member Robert Clofine, who based his estimates on the consumer price index for urban consumers for September.

The official spousal impoverishment allowances for 2019 are as follows (we include Medicaid’s home equity limits, which Clofine did not project):

Minimum Community Spouse Resource Allowance: $25,284

Maximum Community Spouse Resource Allowance: $126,420

Maximum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance: $3,160.50 

The minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance for the lower 48 states remains $2,057.50 ($2,572.50 for Alaska and $2,366.25 for Hawaii) until July 1, 2019.

Home Equity Limits:

Minimum: $585,000

Maximum: $878,000

For CMS’s complete chart of the 2018 SSI and Spousal Impoverishment Standards, click here.

To determine the best way for your family to provide care, consult with one of our elder law attorneys at Pearson Bollman Law.

This article was reprinted with the permission of ElderLawAnswers.com.  If you have any questions regarding the material in this article and how it applies to you, please contact Pearson Bollman Law at 515-727-0986.

Medicare’s Different Treatment of the Two Main Post-Hospital Care Options

Medicare’s Different Treatment of the Two Main Post-Hospital Care Options

Hospital patients who need additional care after being discharged from the hospital are usually sent to either an inpatient rehabilitation facility (IRF) or a skilled nursing facility (SNF). Although these facilities may look similar from the outside, Medicare offers very different coverage for each. While you may not have complete say in where you go after a hospital stay, understanding the difference between the two facilities can help you advocate for what you need and know what to expect with regard to Medicare coverage.

An IRF can be either part of a hospital or a stand-alone facility that offers intensive physical and occupational therapy under the supervision of a doctor and nurses. IRFs offer a minimum of three hours a day of rehabilitation therapy. An SNF, on the other hand, provides full-time nursing care. Patients also receive physical and occupational therapy, but the care is generally less intensive and specialized than in an IRF.

IRFs and Medicare

Medicare Part A covers a stay in an IRF in the same way it covers hospital stays. Medicare pays for 90 days of hospital care per “spell of illness,” plus an additional lifetime reserve of 60 days. A single “spell of illness” begins when the patient is admitted to a hospital or other covered facility, and ends when the patient has gone 60 days without being readmitted to a hospital or other facility. There is no limit on the number of spells of illness. However, the patient must satisfy a deductible before Medicare begins paying for treatment. This deductible, which changes annually, is $1,364 in 2019.

After the deductible is satisfied, Medicare will pay for virtually all hospital charges during the first 60 days of a recipient’s hospital stay. If the hospital stay extends beyond 60 days, the Medicare beneficiary begins shouldering more of the cost of his or her care. From day 61 through day 90, the patient pays a coinsurance of $341 a day in 2019. Beyond the 90th day, the patient begins to tap into his or her 60-day lifetime reserve. During hospital stays covered by these reserve days, beneficiaries must pay a coinsurance of $682 per day in 2019.

To qualify for care in an IRF, you must need 24-hour access to a doctor and a nurse with experience in rehabilitation. You must also be able to handle three hours of therapy a day (although there can be exceptions).

SNFs and Medicare

Medicare’s coverage of skilled nursing care is more limited. Medicare Part A covers up to 100 days of “skilled nursing” care per spell of illness. Beginning on day 21 of the nursing home stay, there is a copayment equal to one-eighth of the initial hospital deductible ($170.50 a day in 2019). However, the conditions for obtaining Medicare coverage of a nursing home stay are quite stringent. Here are the main requirements:

  • The Medicare recipient must enter the nursing home no more than 30 days after a hospital stay (meaning admission as an inpatient; “observation status” does not count) that itself lasted for at least three days (not counting the day of discharge).
  • The care provided in the nursing home must be for the same condition that caused the hospitalization (or a condition medically related to it).
  • The patient must receive a “skilled” level of care in the nursing facility that cannot be provided at home or on an outpatient basis. In order to be considered “skilled,” nursing care must be ordered by a physician and delivered by, or under the supervision of, a professional such as a physical therapist, registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. Moreover, such care must be delivered on a daily basis. (Few nursing home residents receive this level of care.)

A new spell of illness can begin if the patient has not received skilled care, either in an SNF or in a hospital, for a period of 60 consecutive days. The patient can remain in the SNF and still qualify as long as he or she does not receive a skilled level of care during that 60 days.

Keep in mind that some or all of Medicare’s deductibles and co-payments for both IRF and SNF care may be covered by Medicare supplemental insurance, also called Medigap coverage.

To determine the best way for your family to provide care, consult with one of our elder law attorneys at Pearson Bollman Law.

This article was reprinted with the permission of ElderLawAnswers.com.  If you have any questions regarding the material in this article and how it applies to you, please contact Pearson Bollman Law at 515-727-0986.

VA Establishes Asset Limits and Transfer Penalties for Needs-Based Benefits

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has finalized new rules that establish an asset limit, a look-back period, and asset transfer penalties for claimants applying for VA needs-based benefits. This is a change from current regulations, which do not contain a prohibition on transferring assets prior to applying for benefits such as Aid and Attendance.

As ElderLawAnswers  previously reported, the VA proposed the new regulations in January 2015. Three years later, after receiving more than 850 comments, the VA has finally published the final regulations, which are similar, with a couple of exceptions, to the proposed regulations.

In order to qualify for benefits under the new VA regulations, which go into effect October 18, 2018, an applicant for needs-based benefits must have a net worth equal to or less than the prevailing maximum community spouse resource allowance (CSRA) for Medicaid ($123,600 in 2018). Net worth includes the applicant’s assets and income. For example, if an applicant’s assets total $117,000 and annual income is $9,000, the applicant’s net worth is $126,000. The net worth limit will be increased every year by the same percentage that Social Security is increased. The veteran’s primary residence (even if the veteran lives in a nursing home) and the veteran’s personal effects are not considered assets under the new regulations. If the veteran’s residence is sold, the proceeds are considered assets unless a new residence is purchased within the same calendar year.

The VA has also established a 36-month look-back period and a penalty period of up to five years for those who transfer assets for less than market value to qualify for a VA pension. The look-back period means the 36-month period immediately before the date on which the VA receives either an original pension claim or a new pension claim after a period of non-entitlement. There is an exception for transfers made as the result of fraud, misrepresentation, or unfair business practices and transfers to a trust for a child who is not able to self-support.

The penalty period will be calculated based on the total assets transferred during the look-back period if those assets would have put the applicant over the net worth limit. For example, assume the net worth limit is $123,600 and an applicant has a net worth of $115,000. The applicant transferred $30,000 to a friend during the look-back period. If the applicant had not transferred the $30,000, his net worth would have been $145,000, which exceeds the net worth limit. The penalty period will be calculated based on $21,400, the amount the applicant transferred that put his assets over the net worth limit (145,000-123,600).

Any penalty period would begin the first day of the month that follows the last asset transfer, and the divisor would be the applicable maximum annual pension rate for a veteran in need of aid and attendance with one dependent that is in effect as of the date of the pension claim. The penalty period cannot exceed five years, a change from the 10-year maximum in the proposed regulations.

The rules also define and clarify what the VA considers to be a deductible medical expense for all of its needs-based benefits. Medical expenses are defined as payments for items or services that are medically necessary; that improve a disabled individual’s functioning; or that prevent, slow, or ease an individual’s functional decline. Examples of medical expenses include: care by a health care provider, medications and medical equipment, adaptive equipment, transportation expenses, health insurance premiums, products to help quit smoking, and institutional forms of care.

As noted, the rules become effective on October 18, 2018. To read the new regulations, click here.

To determine the best way for your family to provide care, consult with one of our elder law attorneys at Pearson Bollman Law.

This article was reprinted with the permission of ElderLawAnswers.com.  If you have any questions regarding the material in this article and how it applies to you, please contact Pearson Bollman Law at 515-727-0986.

How to Handle Sibling Disputes Over a Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is one of the most important estate planning documents, but when one sibling is named in a power of attorney, there is the potential for disputes with other siblings. No matter which side you are on, it is important to know your rights and limitations.

A power of attorney allows someone to appoint another person — an “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” — to act in place of him or her – the “principal” — if the principal ever becomes incapacitated. There are two types of powers of attorney: financial and medical. Financial powers of attorney usually include the right to open bank accounts, withdraw funds from bank accounts, trade stock, pay bills, and cash checks. They could also include the right to give gifts. Medical powers of attorney allow the agent to make health care decisions. In all of these tasks, the agent is required to act in the best interests of the principal. The power of attorney document explains the specific duties of the agent.

When a parent names only one child to be the agent under a power of attorney, it can cause bad feelings and distrust. If you are dealing with a sibling who has been named agent under a power of attorney or if you have been named agent under a power of attorney over your siblings, the following are some things to keep in mind:

  • Right to information. Your parent doesn’t have to tell you whom he or she chose as the agent. In addition, the agent under the power of attorney isn’t required to provide information about the parent to other family members.
  • Access to the parent. An agent under a financial power of attorney should not have the right to bar a sibling from seeing their parent. A medical power of attorney may give the agent the right to prevent access to a parent if the agent believes the visit would be detrimental to the parent’s health.
  • Revoking a power of attorney. As long as the parent is competent, he or she can revoke a power of attorney at any time for any reason. The parent should put the revocation in writing and inform the old agent.
  • Removing an agent under power of attorney. Once a parent is no longer competent, he or she cannot revoke the power of attorney. If the agent is acting improperly, family members can file a petition in court challenging the agent. If the court finds the agent is not acting in the principal’s best interest, the court can revoke the power of attorney and appoint a guardian.
  • The power of attorney ends at death.If the principal under the power of attorney dies, the agent no longer has any power over the principal’s estate. The court will need to appoint an executor or personal representative to manage the decedent’s property.

If you are drafting a power of attorney document and want to avoid the potential for conflicts, there are some options. You can name co-agents in the document. You need to be careful how this is worded or it could cause more problems. The best way to name two co-agents is to let the agents act separately. Another option is to steer clear of family members and name a professional fiduciary.

Sibling disputes over how to provide care or where a parent will live can escalate into a guardianship battle that can cost the family thousands of dollars. Drafting a formal sibling agreement (also called a family care agreement) is a way to give guidance to the agent under the power of attorney and provide for consequences if the agreement isn’t followed. Even if you don’t draft a formal agreement, openly talking about the areas of potential disagreement can help. If necessary, a mediator can help families come to an agreement on care.

To determine the best way for your family to provide care, consult with one of our elder law attorneys at Pearson Bollman Law.

This article was reprinted with the permission of ElderLawAnswers.com.  If you have any questions regarding the material in this article and how it applies to you, please contact Pearson Bollman Law at 515-727-0986.

Aretha Franklin’s Lack of a Will Could Cause Huge Problems

According to court documents, legendary singer Aretha Franklin did not have a will when she died, opening up her estate to public scrutiny and potential problems. Failing to create an estate plan can cause lots of headaches for heirs, in addition to unnecessary costs.

Franklin, who died August 16, 2018, at age 76, left behind four sons, but no guidance on how to distribute her reported $80 million estate. According to The New York Times, her sons filed paperwork in Oakland County, Michigan, indicating that she died intestate — that is, without a will. The sons nominated Franklin’s niece to serve as the personal representative of the estate. When someone dies without a will, the estate is divided according to state law. Under Michigan law, an unmarried decedent’s estate is distributed to his or her children. (Franklin had been married twice but long since divorced.)

Even if the “Queen of Soul” had wanted her estate to go solely to her children, by not having a will or trust, her estate will have to go through a long public probate process, which will likely cost her estate considerable money. If Franklin, who was quite private in life, had created an estate plan that included a will and a trust, she could have avoided probate and kept the details of her financial circumstances private.  Her eldest son reportedly has special needs, which presents other potential complications.  In addition, by not having a will, Franklin has opened her estate up to potential challenges that could drag out the probate process. Without a will to clearly state the decedent’s intent, litigation resulting from family conflicts often eats into estates.

Also, because Franklin did not plan her estate, the estate will be subject to unnecessary estate taxation. Although she may not have been able to avoid estate tax entirely, there are steps she could have taken to reduce the amount her estate will have to pay.

“I was after her for a number of years to do a trust,” attorney Don Wilson, who represented Franklin in entertainment matters for the past 28 years, told the Detroit Free Press. “It would have expedited things and kept them out of probate, and kept things private.”

Estate planning is important even if you don’t have Aretha Franklin’s assets. It allows you, while you are still living, to ensure that your property will go to the people you want, in the way you want, and when you want. It permits you to save as much as possible on taxes, court costs, and attorneys’ fees; and it affords the comfort that your loved ones can mourn your loss without being simultaneously burdened with unnecessary red tape and financial confusion.

Contact your attorney to begin working on your estate plan now.

This article was reprinted with the permission of ElderLawAnswers.com.  If you have any questions regarding the material in this article and how it applies to you, please contact Pearson Bollman Law at 515-727-0986.

Last Modified: 08/30/2018

Will I Have to Spend Down My Income For My Wife to Be Eligible for Medicaid?

Question:

My wife may need to go into a nursing home and apply for Medicaid in a little more than five years. She has $930 a month in Social Security and no other income. She does have term life insurance policies of $180,000. I have a pension of $3,500 a month, income through work of $100,000 a year, and $350,000 in term life insurance. Questions: 1) What will happen to her life insurance? 2) Will I have to spend down my pension or work income to make my wife eligible for Medicaid? 4) Will my life insurance be in any jeopardy? I plan to eventually talk to an Eldercare Lawyer.

 

Answer:

Neither of your life insurance policies or your income should be a problem. The life insurance policies have no cash value since they are term policies. You may want to transfer ownership into your name. In addition, you will not need to apply your income to your wife’s cost of care once she receives Medicaid coverage. Just her income would go to the facility. And, yes, it’s important that you consult with a local elder law attorney who can advise you on the best planning strategies and local application of the rules.

This article was reprinted with the permission of ElderLawAnswers.com.  If you have any questions regarding the material in this article and how it applies to you, please contact Pearson Bollman Law at 515-727-0986.