Articles Posted in Elder Law

For years, attorneys, accountants, financial planners, and insurance sale persons have been touting the benefits of long-term care insurance. “Buy in your 50s and you will never have to worry about your future long-term care expenses ever again” was the common refrain. It was sound advice. With the right long-term care policy your problems were solved. Daily benefit rates typically covered the lion’s share of the daily private pay rate preserving assets for much-needed extras and, in many cases, a tidy inheritance for the next generation.

Unfortunately, any aging population, the unexpected popularity of assisted living facilities, and a steady increases in the cost of care has made it all but impossible for insurance companies to continue to provide the promised levels of benefits without increasing premiums. It can be argued that insurance companies should have seen the baby-boomers coming but no one anticipated that so many seniors would prefer to transition to an assisted living facility foregoing the in-home care option. Insurance companies also expected a much higher percentage of customers to cancel coverage. A common theme across all types of elective insurance coverage types. The constant refrain from professional advisers to clients recommending that they retain long-term care insurance at all costs had the unintended effect of making LTC insurance untenable for insurers.

All of these unanticipated and unintended consequences has had a real impact on seniors. In some cases, premiums have as much as doubled in the past two years and Mass Mutual, one of the largest LTC insurance underwriters, is about to ask regulators to authorize an average increase in premiums of 77 percent.

Recently, a lawsuit was filed against the Illinois Department of Human and Family Services over delays in the processing of claims for Medicaid benefits. Although the lawsuit focuses primarily on applications for community Medicaid and health insurance benefits, delays by IDHFS in processing Medicaid claims for long-term care benefits can have a dramatic effect on those seniors requiring assistance to pay for long-term nursing home care.

A quick synopsis of the Medicaid system as it applies to nursing home benefits:

Medicaid (not to be confused with Medicare) is a government program funded by both state and federal resources to help seniors and disabled individuals with limited resources pay for long-term care. Although Medicare will cover short-term stays in a nursing home for rehabilitation and some respite care, Medicare provides no benefit to those seniors that need to move to a nursing home on a permanent basis.

Open enrollment for Medicare runs from October 15th to December 7th this year. If you are eligible for Medicare, you are more likely than ever to be the target of Medicare related scams this year. Medicare scammers are smart and they know exactly what types of scenarios, incentives and stories are most likely to ensnare seniors.

Typical scam calls may be about a refund of premiums, the need for a new Medicare card, false offers of free medical services and bogus Medigap plans. No matter the story used, service offered, or purported identity of the caller, the objective is for the scammer to obtain the senior’s Social Security number by slowly extracting as much personal information as possible from their victim.

Here are some important things for seniors to remember about Medicare to help weed out fake callers:

At our office we are frequently approached by elderly clients who are considering a second marriage later in life. A new romantic relationship can mean new friends, new experiences, increased happiness and an overall better quality of life. That being said, older couples do have some important issues to consider when deciding whether or not to take the plunge. Adult children, retirement plans, long-term care consideration and government benefits are all topics that should be discussed thoroughly before an elderly couple decides to marry.

A particularly sensitive issue is what happens to the family home. Whether the couple decides to remarry, or decides that they would prefer to just live together, it is important to plan for what will happen to the home they decide to cohabit. Seniors in this situation are faced with the competing goals of wanting to keep the equity of the home in their family, while wanting to provide a place for their significant other to live should the owner predecease. Through the use of proper estate planning such as a life estate or properly drafted land trust, this can be achieved. Care should be taken to ensure that assets are available to maintain the home and that the owner’s family understands their wishes.

Another sticky topic, is how to pay for long-term care and what happens if one spouse requires Medicaid benefits. Long-term care can be very expensive and the Illinois Department of Human Services will require that a spouse’s assets be taken into consideration even in the face of trust and prenuptial agreements when reviewing an application for Medicaid benefits. One spouse’s refusal to make their assets available for the care of another can have a significant negative impact on Medicaid eligibility. We strongly advise against later in life marriages when the need for Medicaid benefits to pay for long-term care is relatively foreseeable.

No area of our practice causes more confusion and angst for seniors and their families as the question of how to pay for nursing home care. Within that practice area, no topic causes more problems for seniors as asset protection planning. Myths abound about how to protect assets prior to applying for Medicaid. Some of the most common are: 1) that a Medicaid applicant can transfer $14,000 per child per year; 2) that the kids can be added to financial accounts to shield assets; or 3) that investing in annuities will solve all their problems. In fact all of these theories about asset protection are wrong. Worst of all, engaging in these activities can leave the senior in an incredibly precarious position.

The $14,000 per child myth is based on IRS gifting rules which have no relationship to Medicaid eligibility or planning; adding your children to your account will have no effect on how Medicaid counts the assets when determining your eligibility for benefits; and the rules concerning Medicaid and annuities has changed dramatically over the years to that point that only one, very specific type of annuity will help a Medicaid applicant qualify for benefits while preserving assets.

Even playing by all the rules can created problems. For example, current Medicaid rules will not take into account any transaction that occurred more than five years before the application for benefits. This leads many seniors to transfer their assets to children well in advance of applying for Medicaid benefits.  Unfortunately this creates a whole new set of problems. Assets transferred to children are now vulnerable to the creditors and spouses of the kids. There can also be serious capital gains and real estate tax implications for transferring property to children that must be taken into account.

Recent natural disasters have highlighted the need for more comprehensive emergency and evacuation plans for nursing home facilities. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Marie each caused significant property damage, resulted in loss of life, and left many seniors stranded for days without electricity, air conditioning, sufficient access to medications and doctors, no way to contact family members, and rapidly dwindling food and water reserves.

Federal regulations on nursing home emergency preparedness were issued in September of 2016 and should be fully implemented by November of this year. The new regulations sound fairly comprehensive. They address things such as an emergency plan & procedures, communications, training and back-up power systems. The problem is that the new regulations are vague and give no specific guidance or standards by which these new procedures should be evaluated. Critics of the new regulations fear that the lack of specificity in Federal guidelines will lead to inconsistencies in planning and implementation.

Luckily for those of us that live in the Midwest, we have little to fear from hurricanes. However, severe snow storms, summer heat waves and tornadoes have all been known to effectively trap seniors in nursing facilities or in their homes. As we head into winter we urge our clients to check in with elderly clients often. If the senior lives in a nursing home, we suggest the family inquire after emergency procedures and to establish a reliable means of communication with the senior such as a personal cell phone. For those seniors living at home, we suggest families procure sufficient water and non-perishable foods to meet the senior’s needs during extender periods of extreme cold or heavy snows. We also suggest making advanced arrangements for snow removal.

A CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community) is a facility that allows residents to move from independent living to assisted living to skilled care as their mental and physical states change.  They are usually a facility where a person can buy in to the community, pay a monthly sum and receive a portion of the buy-in price when they move out, die or when the resident’s quarters have been resold.  There are some CCRCs that are on a straight rental basis.

One issue that has received much attention lately is the ability of the CCRC to dictate when a person must transfer to a higher standard of care within the facility.  The CCRC contract usually states that if a resident can no longer be cared for at a certain level then the facility can move that resident to a higher level of care.  The disagreements and then the subsequent lawsuits appear when the management of the facility gives notice to a resident that she can no longer remain at a certain level of care, but the resident- and even the resident’s physician- argue that the current level of care is adequate for her condition.  The issue becomes whether the facility can force the resident to a higher and probably more expensive care level notwithstanding the protests to the contrary.

Courts, however, have been reticent to disturb the CCRC Agreement in these cases.  Favoring the language and the sanctity of the Agreement, they have almost always sided with the facility.  Their logic is that the contract left the final decision with the facility, so the facility has the final word on whether the resident moves to a more intensive care level.

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