Social Security Retirement Benefits: A Not So Simple Decision

October 12, 2015

For those of you who will soon be eligible to start receiving Social Security retirement benefits, you are probably already acutely aware of the decision that lies before you.  That decision, of course, is when is the best time for you to start collecting benefits.   You are wondering whether you should start collecting your benefits at age 62; whether you should wait until your full retirement age; whether you should file and suspend, etc.  If you are married, then this decision is even more complicated and the range of options before you and your spouse increases significantly.  You have probably begun to receive mailers for workshops where planners will be on hand to help you make that determination.  In addition, you may have engaged in internet research and discovered the plethora of articles on the topic, as well as a vast number of Social Security retirement benefit calculators promising to give you the magic answer that you seek.   After having engaged in my own personal research and educating myself on this very important topic, and after having had the pleasure and privilege of attending a presentation by the extremely knowledgeable and highly regarded Social Security guru, attorney Avram Sacks, at the IL-NAELA “Unprogram” on October 3, 2015, I have come to the following conclusions:

  • This decision is anything but simple;
  • There is no “one-size fits all” answer;
  • Not all benefits calculators are alike, as not all calculators will necessarily take into consideration all relevant and pertinent factors impacting this decision;
  • Not all benefits calculators offer “error” free results;
  • Certain decisions cannot be undone; and,
  • Absent a working crystal ball, any decision one makes will ultimately incorporate certain variables that will be based upon the best available information regarding health, expected longevity, future earnings, anticipated taxes, etc., which in the end may prove to have been based on incorrect assumptions.

So what is one to do improve their chances of maximizing these benefits for the remainder of their life?  Quite simply, our office recommends consulting a knowledgeable and highly-regarded Social Security guru, before making any final decisions.

©Copyright 2015 by Constance Burnett Renzi. All rights reserved.

Our office is available for consultation regarding estate planning (including Wills and/or Trusts), life care planning (powers of attorney), special needs planning, probate, guardianship matters, Medicaid eligibility for long-term care, and/or other elder law issues.  The Elder Law Center, P.C.  proudly serves clients throughout Illinois and is located in Aurora, IL,  in the Chicago Western Suburbs.  Our office can be reached via telephone (630-844-0065) or email through our website:http://www.elderlawpc.com.

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Resource for Information on Free and Low Cost Medication Programs

October 5, 2015

If you follow our office on Twitter, then you know that both Katie Lenert and I recently attended the Illinois Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys IL-NAELA “Unprogram.”   Kudos to Katie Lenert and the others on the committee for putting together, yet, another fabulous continuing education program for elder law attorneys.   The program was chocked full of both interesting tidbits and substantive information, some of which we thought may be of immediate value to our clients, friends, and/or readers of our blog.   Accordingly, here is one piece of information that we wanted to share right away.

For those of you looking for information about free and low cost medication programs, visit:

www.rxassist.org

In addition, some may also find RxAssist helpful in providing useful information about other ways to manage medication costs.

Be sure to check back for more tidbits and information from IL-NAELA’s “Unprogram.”

©Copyright 2015 by Constance Burnett Renzi. All rights reserved.

Our office is available for consultation regarding estate planning (including Wills and/or Trusts), life care planning (powers of attorney), special needs planning, probate, guardianship matters, Medicaid eligibility for long-term care, and/or other elder law issues.  The Elder Law Center, P.C.  proudly serves clients throughout Illinois and is located in Aurora, IL,  in the Chicago Western Suburbs.  Our office can be reached via telephone (630-844-0065) or email through our website: http://www.elderlawpc.com.

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Happy National Healthcare Decisions Day

April 16, 2015

 

Whether you have already created an advance directive (or advance directives) for your healthcare, or not, National Healthcare Decisions Day is the perfect day to take a minute to consider your wishes regarding your healthcare.  As long as you remain competent, you will be able to make your own healthcare decisions.  What happens, however, if you become incapacitated?  How will your healthcare decisions be made and who will make them for you?  The good news is that you have the ability to be pro-active and create a document, often referred to as a Healthcare Power of Attorney, that will allow others (who you choose) to make healthcare decisions for you.  In addition, you may also choose to create other documents to inform your healthcare providers of your specific wishes, regarding particular healthcare circumstances that may later arise.  If you do not have a Healthcare POA in place, then now is the perfect time to consider creating one for yourself.

If you already have a Healthcare Power of Attorney (POA), in place, then give yourself a pat on the back.  By creating a Healthcare POA you have taken a very important step with regard to future healthcare decisions for yourself, should you later become incapacitated and unable to make your own decisions.  Even though you may have already created a Healthcare POA, National Healthcare Decisions Day is the perfect time to review your POA (and/or other healthcare advance directives), particularly if it has been years since you have last looked at your POA.  If you have not reviewed it recently, are you sure that it still accurately reflects your wishes?  When you do review it, to be sure that it still reflects your wishes, also check to be sure it includes successor agents.  Designating successor agents means that should your first named agent be unable to act on your behalf, there is a better chance that there will be someone else in place to act as your agent.  With regard to the people that you have designated as your agent and successors, do they know that you have done so, and do they know where you are storing the original and/or copies?  Failing to let the people you have designated as your agent and successors know that you have done so, and/or failing to let them know where to find your Healthcare POA if needed, will be fatal to your Healthcare POA working as you intended it to work, in the event of your incapacitation.  Assuming that you have informed your agent and successors that they have been so designated and they know where it is stored, have you also talked with these persons to further explain your wishes?  While advance directives allow you to give written directions to the people you are naming to act on your behalf, it is still important to have a conversation with those so designated to fully explain your wishes and philosophies with regard to your health and healthcare decisions.  Having periodic conversations with your agent and successors is, likewise, recommended to be sure these people remember your wishes and to be sure that they are aware of any changes in your wishes or philosophies, which may have evolved over time.

The available advance directive options for healthcare will vary from state to state.  Thus, it is important to seek advice regarding the options available to you in your state.  If you reside in Illinois and would like information and/or assistance in creating a Healthcare Power of Attorney (POA), or you would like to have your current POA reviewed, contact our office at 630-844-0065 to schedule an appointment.

©Copyright 2015 by Constance Burnett Renzi. All rights reserved.

Our office is, also, available for consultation regarding estate planning (including Wills and/or Trusts), life care planning (powers of attorney), special needs planning, probate, guardianship matters, and/or other elder law issues.  The Elder Law Center, P.C.  proudly serves clients throughout Illinois and is located in Aurora, IL,  in the Chicago Western Suburbs.  Our office can be reached via telephone (630-844-0065) or email through our website: http://www.elderlawpc.com.

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Elder Law Update: “Mr. Cub’s” Will is Confirmed by a Cook County Judge

April 9, 2015

The contested will of Ernie Banks was confirmed by a Cook County Judge on March 31, 2015, with the Court finding that Mr. Banks was of sound mind when he executed a will on October 17, 2015 that left all of his assets to his longtime caregiver.  Mr. Banks’ family contested the will, arguing that he was not competent when it was executed and was coerced by the caregiver into leaving her all of his assets, rather than to his estranged wife and children.  In upholding the will, the Court heard testimony from two paralegals who witnessed the will’s execution and who testified that he seemed of sound mind and not under any constraints.  Whether the battle over the will is truly over remains to be seen as the media reports that Mr. Banks’ wife may pursue an appeal of the decision.

For more information on testamentary capacity, estate planning (including Wills and/or Trusts), life care planning (powers of attorney), special needs planning, probate and/or guardianship matters, or other elder law issues, please call the Elder Law Center at 630-844-0065 or contact us via email. The Elder Law Center, P.C.  proudly serves clients throughout Illinois and is located in Aurora, IL,  in the Chicago Western Suburbs.

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Dispelling a Common Misconception:  Annual Gifts do NOT Qualify as an Exception Under the Strict Medicaid Transfer Rules

March 30, 2015

At our office, we frequently meet with clients regarding long-term care planning.  Many times these meetings include counseling clients regarding the Medicaid eligibility rules for a long-term nursing home stay.   (A full discussion of the Medicaid eligibility rules is beyond the scope of this post, as the rules are complex and vary from state to state.)   During these meetings, it is not uncommon for clients to make the following statement, “I know that I can gift $14,000 per year per person, without any negative consequences, if I have to apply for Medicaid.”   Most of these folks are quite surprised when we advise them that their understanding is incorrect and simply NOT true.  

Pursuant to the federal law regarding Medicaid eligibility for long-term care stays at a nursing home, there is a sixty (60) month look-back period in which ALL transfers made by the Medicaid applicant will be strictly scrutinized.   When transfers made during the look-back period are reviewed, a penalty period will be imposed for all “non-allowable” transfers.  A “non-allowable” transfer (made during the look-back period) is a transfer for which there is insufficient documentation to support that the applicant, or his/her spouse, received either  resources or services approximately equal to the fair market value of the amount transferred.  There are “exceptions” to the transfer rules, which may result in certain transfers being treated as “allowable,” even when the transfer was not made for fair market value.  However, nowhere in the Medicaid eligibility laws, rules, and policy provisions, as applied in Illinois, is the transfer of $14,000 per year per person included as an “allowable” transfer.  Thus, pursuant to the Illinois Medicaid eligibility rules, unless an annual gift (made during the applicable look-back period) fits into one of the “exceptions,” the gift will NOT be “allowable,” and it will result in a penalty period being imposed.

The genesis of this misconception is easily explained.   It is the result of confusing the federal gift tax laws with the Medicaid eligibility laws and rules.  According to the IRS, the federal annual gift tax exclusion rules provide that, in 2015, an individual may gift up to $14,000 per year per person without the annual exclusion gifts counting towards the individual’s lifetime gift exemption. This rule, however, is limited solely to the federal estate and gift tax laws, and unless the gift fits into one of the stated “exceptions” for transfers made during the look-back period, it will NOT qualify as an “allowable” transfer under the Medicaid eligibility rules.

Quite simply, the bottom line is that if you or a loved one will likely need Medicaid assistance for long-term care, obtaining legal advice (in your home state) for your specific situation is highly recommended. As noted above, the Medicaid eligibility rules are quite complex and vary from state to state.  As such, it is important to be certain that you are not confusing other laws and rules with the applicable Medicaid eligibility rules in your state.

©Copyright 2015 by Constance Burnett Renzi. All rights reserved.

To discuss elder law issues, estate planning (including Wills and/or Trusts), life care planning (powers of attorney), special needs planning, probate and/or guardianship matters with one of our attorneys, please call the Elder Law Center at 630-844-0065 or contact us via email. The Elder Law Center, P.C. is located in Aurora, IL, Kane County, in the Chicago Western Suburbs.

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Redo Your Estate Plan When You Remarry

January 28, 2015

If you are getting remarried, you obviously want to celebrate, but it is also important to focus on less exciting matters like redoing your estate plan. You may have created an estate plan during your first marriage, but this time it will probably be more complicated–especially if you have children from your first marriage or more assets. The following are some pointers for ensuring your interests are taken care of when you remarry:

  • Take an inventory. The first thing you and your partner should do is each take an inventory of your assets and debts and share it with the other person. Don’t forget to include life insurance policies and retirement plans in your inventories. It is important to be open and honest about money if you want to prevent bad feelings in the future.
  • Decide how you want to handle finances. Once you know what you are dealing with, then you need to decide if you want to combine (or not combine) assets when you are married. For example, if one partner is selling a house and moving in with the other partner, will he or she contribute to the cost of the house? If one partner has significant debt, you may not want to combine finances or make any joint purchases. These decisions need to be made upfront so everyone is clear on what to expect.
  • Decide what you want to happen when you die. You and your future spouse need to figure out where each of you wants your assets to go when you die. If you have children from a previous marriage, this can be a complicated discussion. There is no guarantee that if you leave your assets to your new spouse, he or she will provide for your children after you are gone. There are a number of options to ensure your children are provided for, including creating a trust for your children, making your children beneficiaries of life insurance policies, or giving your children joint ownership of property. Even if you don’t have children, there may be family heirlooms or mementos that you want to keep in your family. Again, open discussions can prevent problems in the future.
  • Consult an elder law or estate planning attorney. Even if you don’t have a lot of assets, you should consult an attorney, especially if you have children. You will definitely need to update your will. You may also need to update or create other estate planning documents such as a durable power of attorney and a health care proxy. If you have significant assets, a prenuptial agreement may be appropriate. In addition, the attorney can help you decide if a trust is necessary to protect your children’s interests.
  • Change your beneficiaries. You may want to change the beneficiaries on your life insurance policy, annuity, and/or retirement plan. If you are divorced, however, you may not be able to change some of the beneficiaries. Bring your divorce decree with you to the attorney so he or she can make sure you do not violate the decree. If you can’t change your beneficiaries, you may want to buy additional life insurance or retirement plans that will include your new spouse.
  • Consider a prenuptial agreement. While you are intending to stay married, things happen. Unlike a first marriage, you may be bringing property to this marriage that you spent decades accumulating and you may be merging two families. You need to decide together what your intentions are for the use of funds while you are living together, if you get divorced and when one of you dies before the other. Failure to think and plan ahead can mean severe heartache and financial costs for you and your family.
  • Consider purchasing long-term care insurance.The physical, emotional and financial cost of long-term care can deplete the savings of all but the most wealthy. While you may be willing to spend your lifetime of savings on the care of a spouse with whom you raised a family and accumulated the funds, you may not want to lose this to the care of a relatively new spouse. Long-term care insurance, while expensive, can permit you and your new spouse to get the care you need without impoverishing the other.

The most important thing to remember is to be open and honest with your future spouse and your family members about your wishes.

For more on estate planning, click here.

To discuss elder law issues with an attorney, please call the Elder Law Center at 630-844-0065 or contact us via email. The Elder Law Center is located in Aurora, IL, Kane County, in the Chicago Western Suburbs.


What Happens to a Medicaid Recipient If the Community Spouse Dies First?

January 7, 2015

When one spouse is in a nursing home and applying for Medicaid, planning has to take into account the possibility that the spouse who is not in the nursing home (called the “community spouse”) may pass away first. This is because the community spouse’s death may make the spouse in the nursing home ineligible for Medicaid.

In order to qualify for Medicaid, a nursing home resident can have only a limited number of assets. Careful planning can allow the resident’s spouse to maintain some assets. However, if that community spouse passes away first and leaves those assets to the nursing home resident, the resident suddenly would be over Medicaid’s asset limit.

While the community spouse can write a will that disinherits the Medicaid resident, most states have laws that allow spouses to claim a portion of their deceased spouse’s estate regardless of what the will says. This is called the elective or statutory share. The amount the spouse can claim varies from state to state.

A spouse can disclaim his or her elective share, but if a Medicaid recipient disclaims the inheritance, it is considered an uncompensated transfer of assets and the recipient may receive a period of Medicaid ineligibility. To avoid this, the community spouse will most likely need a will that addresses this issue. One option is for the community spouse to create a will that leaves the nursing home spouse exactly the amount of the elective share. Another option may be to create a special trust that contains the elective share. You should talk to your attorney to determine the best course of action for you and your spouse.

For more information about Medicaid, click here.

To discuss elder law issues with an attorney, please call the Elder Law Center at 630-844-0065 or contact us via email. The Elder Law Center is located in Aurora, IL, Kane County, in the Chicago Western Suburbs.