Value of Hobbies to your Health

Hobbies can greatly enrich our lives as we age, improve our well-being and increase life expectancy.

As we go into Labor Day weekend, I thought it might be nice to focus on a topic that isn’t about work.  It isn’t a task or something you have to do.  Instead, I going to focus on leisure.

Specifically, studies have shown that having hobbies can improve your well-being and even extend life expectancy, which helps lead to enjoyable golden years.  So with that, here are a few hobbies that may have a powerful impact on your health according to Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “7 Hobbies That Help You Live Longer”.

  1. Reading. Stress is a big source of health problems that shorten lives, and reading can provide a ready escape into a new world.  According to a study out of the University of Sussex, reading can decrease your stress levels by 68%. Reading improves your stress after only a few minutes because your mind focuses on what you are reading. This distraction eases the tensions in muscles and the heart.  This is a personal favorite hobby of mine and I would recommend it to anyone, even people who don’t think of themselves as “readers.”
  2. Gardening. A number of studies show that the physical activity of gardening — combined with being in a lush, green atmosphere — can enhance and extend life. People in their 60s with green thumbs decrease their risk of developing dementia by 36%, according to research from Australia.  I couldn’t find the citation for this, but I’ve been told that heart rates will reduce once you are outside in a green area after only 10 minutes.
  3. Cooking. Restaurant and processed foods are no good for your health. They can contribute to life-shortening illnesses, like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, people who make meals from scratch are much more apt to eat a healthier diet. The more often you cook at home each week, the higher you’ll tend to score on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Eating Index. University of Washington researchers say: “Home-cooked dinners were associated with greater dietary guideline compliance, without significant increase in food expenditures. By contrast, frequent eating out was associated with higher expenditures and lower compliance.”
  4. Listening to music. Research shows that regularly attending concerts can add years to your life. One study found just 20 minutes of listening can increase your sense of well-being by up to 21%. In particular, concert attendance increases:
  • Feelings of self-worth by 25%
  • Feelings of closeness to others by 25%; and
  • Mental stimulation by 75%.

The study concluded that such positive feelings could increase your lifespan by up to nine years. According to Fagan, “Our research showcases the profound impact gigs have on feelings of health, happiness and well-being — with regular attendance being the key.”

     5.  Volunteering. Helping others is another great hobby to extend your life, but only if your motives are pure. A study published in the journal Health              Psychology found that volunteering extends life, but with a strange caveat, according to the American Psychological Association:

“Volunteers lived longer than people who didn’t volunteer, if they reported altruistic values or a desire for social connections as the main reasons for wanting to volunteer, according to the study. People who said they volunteered for their own personal satisfaction had the same mortality rate four years later as people who did not volunteer at all, according to the study.”

Researchers think that proper motivation is key to getting the most out of volunteering because it buffers volunteers from stressors, like impingement on the volunteer’s time and lack of pay, which are part of doing good works.  I can say anecdotally that as people age and after they retire, sometimes they lack a focus and throw themselves into volunteering.  It isn’t a healthy approach, they are basically recreating their work experiences and the stress that comes with it.

       6.  Walking. This hobby can have a profound impact on your health, and those who take brisk walks might live up to 20 years longer than couch            potatoes, according to a Mayo Clinic study. Again, it’s brisk walking — at least three miles per hour or 100 steps a minute — is required to get the life-extending benefits.

       7.  Owning a pet. A lot of research has found that pet owners enjoy many health benefits from being around their furry friends. For example, a meta-  analysis of studies published between 1950 and 2019 found that dog owners had a 24% risk reduction for death from any cause. The benefit is even more pronounced for seniors with existing heart problems. The study authors believe walking a dog — (see #6) — may play a big role in these improved health outcomes. Another study in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology found that people who own cats have a reduced risk of death from heart attack or stroke.

Hopefully this weekend you’ll spend time on your hobby, or pick one of these as a new one!  Happy Labor Day!

Reference: Money Talks News (Aug. 20, 2021) “7 Hobbies That Help You Live Longer”

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Retaining Assets While Being Medicaid Eligible

Medicaid is a program with strict income and wealth limits to qualify, explains Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “You Can Keep Some Assets While Qualifying for Medicaid. Here’s How.” This is a different program from Medicare, the national health insurance program for people 65 and over that largely doesn’t cover long-term care. In this system, clients often have a goal of retaining assets while being Medicaid eligible.

If you can afford your own care, you’ll have more options because all facilities (depending on the level of medical care) don’t take Medicaid. Even so, couples with ample savings may deplete all their wealth for the other spouse to pay for a long stay in a nursing home. However, you can save some assets for a spouse and qualify for Medicaid using strategies from an Elder Law or Medicaid Planning Attorney.

You can allocate as much as $3,259.50 of your monthly income to a spouse, whose income isn’t considered, and still satisfy the Medicaid limit. Your countable assets must be $2,000 or less, with a spouse allowed to keep half of what you both own up to $130,380. Countable assets include things like cash, bank accounts, real estate other than a primary residence, and investments.  However, you can keep a personal residence, personal belongings (like clothes and home appliances), one vehicle (2 for married couple), engagement and wedding rings and a prepaid burial plot.  There are more detailed rules for countable and exempt assets, but suffice it to say most things count.

If you have too much income over the $2,382 income per month for the application, you can use a Miller Trust aka Qualified Income Trust for yourself, which is an irrevocable trust that’s used exclusively to satisfy Medicaid’s income threshold. If your income from Social Security, pensions and other sources is higher than Medicaid’s limit but not enough to pay for nursing home care, the excess income can go into a Miller Trust. This allows you to qualify for Medicaid, while keeping some extra money in the trust for your own care. The funds can be used for items that Medicare doesn’t cover.

However, your spouse may not have enough to live on. You could boost a spouse’s income with a Medicaid-compliant annuity. These turn your savings into a stream of future retirement income for you and your spouse and don’t count as an asset. You can purchase an annuity at any time, but to be Medicaid compliant, the annuity payments must begin right away with the state named as the beneficiary after you and your spouse pass away.

These strategies are designed for retaining assets while being Medicaid eligible for married couples; leaving an asset to other heirs is more difficult. Once you and your spouse pass away, the state government must recover Medicaid costs from your estate, when possible. This may be through a a claim on your probate estate (usually means the house) before assets go to heirs, reimbursement from a Miller Trust or other items.  That is a topic unto itself, albeit an important one, so see here for more information on Medicaid recovery.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/protect-assets-from-medicaid-recovery/

Note that any assets given away within five years of a Medicaid application date still count toward eligibility. Property transferred to heirs earlier than that is okay. One strategy is to create an irrevocable trust on behalf of your children and transfer property that way. You will lose control of the trust’s assets, so your heirs should be willing to help you out financially, if you need it.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 24, 2021) “You Can Keep Some Assets While Qualifying for Medicaid. Here’s How”

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Protect Assets from Medicaid Recovery

Medicaid is a government program used by Americans to pay long-term care, typically for nursing homes or in-home care.   What some people don’t realize is that Medicaid seeks reimbursement for money spent on someone’s behalf after they pass away.  The Medicaid Estate Recovery Program (MERP) is used to recoup costs paid toward long term care, so that the program can be more affordable for the government, says the article “What is Medicaid Estate Recovery?” from kake.com. Beneficiaries of Medicaid recipients are often surprised to learn that this impacts them directly, and are even more surprised that you can protect assets from Medicaid recovery with some planning.

Medicare was created to help pay for healthcare costs of Americans once they reach age 65. It covers many different aspects of healthcare expenses, but not costs for long-term or nursing home care. That is the role of Medicaid.

Medicaid helps pay the costs of long-term care for aging seniors. It is used when a person has not purchased long-term health care insurance or does not have enough money to pay for long-term care out of their own funds.  Medicaid is sometimes used by individuals who have taken steps to protect their assets in advance by using trusts or other estate planning tools.  See here for more detail.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/can-i-afford-in-home-elderly-care/

The Medicaid Estate Recovery program allows Medicaid to be reimbursed for costs that include the costs of staying in a nursing home or other long-term care facility, home and community-based services, medical services received through a hospital when the person is a long-term care patient and prescription drug services for long-term care recipients.

When the recipient passes away, Medicaid is allowed to pursue assets from the estate. In fact, Federal law requires the states to have such a program.  Now, this is critical to recognize, but the scope of Medicaid varies widely between what state provided the benefits.  For the most part it means any assets that would be subject to the probate process after the recipient passes. That may include bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, or other real property.  Texas Medicaid recovery is happily limited to the estate.  So, there are many options to protect assets from Medicaid recovery in Texas.

In some states, recovery may be made from assets that are not subject to probate: jointly owned bank accounts between spouses, payable on death bank accounts, real estate owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, living trusts and any assets a Medicaid recipient has an interest in.

An estate planning attorney will know what assets Medicaid can use for recovery and how to protect the family from being financially devastated.

While it is true that Medicaid can’t take your home or assets before the recipient passes, it is legal for Medicaid to have a claim to assets before the beneficiaries, similar to the way other creditors of a decedent must be satisfied before beneficiaries receive property.  Let’s say your mother needs to move into a nursing home. If she dies, you’ll have to satisfy Medicaid’s claim before you can take possession or will pay the claim as part of a sale.

Strategic planning can be done in advance by the individual who may need Medicaid in the future. One way to do this is to purchase long-term care insurance, which is the strategy of personal responsibility. Another is removing assets from the probate process. Married couples can make that sure all assets are owned jointly with right of survivorship, or to purchase an annuity that transfers to the surviving spouse, when the other spouse passes away.

In most cases we can advance clients on how to change the the titling of their accounts to protect assets from Medicaid recovery before the person passes away.  We may also be able to create a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust, which may remove assets from being counted for eligibility.

As a final point, clients often encounter the medicaid claim in the estate, which is the first time an attorney is involved in the process.  Now, you may not have the same options to protect assets from Medicaid recovery because you’ll have lost prospective planning, but their are exceptions to recovery and ways to defend against the claim.  They are all very time sensitive however, so you should reach out to an attorney immediately upon encountering them.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to learn how to prepare for yourself or your parent’s future needs. The earlier the planning begins, the better chances of successfully protecting the family.

Reference: kake.com (Feb. 6, 2021) “What is Medicaid Estate Recovery?”

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