Checklist When Visiting Assisted Living Facilities

When visiting an assisted living for you or your loved one, ask the right questions to find a safe, affordable community with quality care.

When you are trying to find an assisted living community for yourself or a loved one, you need to do your homework to find at least three candidates that meet all the needs of the future resident. After you have narrowed your search down to those facilities, you should visit each one with the person who will be living there. Know what you want to look for before you visit the first center, so you will get all the information you need from every facility.

It is easy to get overwhelmed in the process of finding the right assisted living community. To help you in this quest, use this checklist when visiting assisted living facilities.

  1. First impressions count. Pay close attention to your initial thoughts and feelings about the assisted living center as you approach and enter. Your instincts often pick up on “micro-symptoms” that can indicate a problem, even before you notice the issue itself.
  2. Try to see down the road. Visualize yourself or your loved one actually living at the assisted living community. Ask yourself if you would be happy there. Pay attention to whether you feel comfortable or anxious. Evaluate whether the staff and other residents are friendly and inviting.  Does this facility have skilled nursing on site?  If the resident’s health worsens, would they have to move?
  3. Use your Nose. When you walk through the building, pay attention to the smells. You should not be able to detect any unpleasant odors. Strong “cover-up” scents are also a potential warning that the place likely has cleanliness issues.
  4. Look for dirt, dust, and grime in the obvious locations and places, like the baseboards and windows. Cleanliness counts in an assisted living facility.
  5. The staff in action. Watch the staff when they are interacting with the residents. Look at the body language of both the staff and residents.  Is the staff courteous and warm?  Are the residents resentful or fearful? Keep looking until you find an assisted living facility where both the residents and the staff are happy, warm and friendly.
  6. The proof is in the pudding. Good food is one of the highlights for many people who reside in assisted living. Visit during mealtime and arrange to eat a meal there. Find out if the meals are both nutritious and tasty. Get a copy of the monthly menus to check for variety. Find out the center’s policy, when a resident cannot come to the dining room.
  7. Explore the both outdoor areas and the indoor facilities. Make sure that your loved one would be safe when enjoying some fresh air outside.
  8. The current residents. You can find out valuable information from the people who already live at the center. Without making them feel uncomfortable, notice whether the residents are well-groomed and wearing clean clothes. Sit and visit with some residents. Let them know you are considering this community for yourself or a loved one. Ask for their advice. Find out if they have to wait a long time for personal care or other services. If so, the facility is likely under-staffed.
  9. Check the price.  Assisted living isn’t cheap, but don’t let price drive the decision.  If you go to the cheapest place, you can expect to get a matching level of care.  Instead, consider the price and then consider how you’ll pay for assisted living.  Medicaid isn’t always available for assisted living, but may be if health worsens and your loved one is in a nursing home.  Perhaps the Veterans Administration offers a benefit you can use, or perhaps you have long-term care insurance.  See our Elder Law page for a longer overview.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/practice-areas/elder-law/ 

In the end, this is an important decision and you should do your homework to find the right assisted living for your or your loved one.

References:

A Place for Mom. “Tips for Touring Assisted Living Communities.” (accessed August 7, 2019) https://www.aplaceformom.com/planning-and-advice/articles/tips-for-touring-assisted-living

Continue Reading

Proposed IRA Rules and Their Effect on Stretch IRAs.

New IRA rules make retirement funds better for retirees, but not necessarily for their beneficiaries.

The SECURE (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) Act proposes a number of changes to IRA rules and other retirement rules.  The Act passed in the House of Representatives by a 417-3 vote and is expected to be passed in some form by the Senate. Some of the changes appear to be common sense, like broadening access to IRAs and 401(k)s, changing the required minimum distribution (RMD) age from 70½ to 72 and providing different investment options for these programs. However, with these changes come potential limitations with Stretch IRAs.

Forbes asks in its recent article “Are Concerns Over Stretch IRAs And The SECURE Act Justified?” An IRA shelters investments from tax which leaves investors with more money for the same investment performance because usually no tax is usually paid as it grows. Your distributions can also be tax-free if you use a Roth IRA. That’s a good thing if you have an option between paying taxes on your investment income and not paying taxes on it. The SECURE act isn’t changing this fundamental process, but the issue is when you still have an IRA balance at death.

A Stretch IRA can be a great estate planning tool. Here’s how it works: you give the IRA to a young beneficiary in your family. The tax shield of the IRA is then “stretched,” for what can be decades, based on the principle that an IRA is used over the life expectancy of the beneficiary. This is important because the longer the IRA lasts, the more investment gains and income can be protected from taxes which allows the investment to grow tremendously.

Even better, current estate planning techniques allow an investor to leave an IRA to a trust and still get “stretch” treatment.  For more information, see our website.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/life-stages/planning-for-retirement/   Current Treasury Rules permit trusts to receive “stretch” treatment if the beneficiary of the trust is readily identifiable. This enables investors to leave their retirement assets to trusts for their individual beneficiaries and receive the investment advantage of the “stretch” as well as the benefit of the trust, such as tax planning and divorce or creditor protection for the beneficiaries.  One such trust is called a “conduit trust” where only RMD’s are paid out to the identifiable beneficiary based upon his or her life expectancy.

However, the SECURE Act could change that.  The proposed IRA rules and other retirement rules instead require funds to be distributed over a 10 year period instead of the beneficiary’s lifetime. That’s a big change for estate planning and the value of assets passed to the next generation.

There are some exceptions to the 10 year time period, including retirement left to a surviving spouse, minor children and some persons with disabilities or chronic illnesses.  However, aside from the spouse, these beneficiary groups are limited and will be most harmed by this change.  For example, a disabled beneficiary would likely not receive the retirement funds directly because receiving the retirement funds would affect their government benefits.  Instead, the retirement will pay to a special kind of trust, called a Supplemental Needs Trust, that will receive the retirement funds and accumulate them for the beneficiary’s use.  However, that form of a trust will presumably not qualify for the 10 year exception because remainder beneficiaries (those who survive the disabled beneficiary) will be brought into the analysis and likely won’t be minors or disabled beneficiaries to make the trust eligible for a 10 year exception.  For someone in that case, a 10 year payout will accelerate tax and greatly reduce the legacy left to the beneficiary with a disability, and he or she is the one who needs it most.

For a person who uses their own IRA in retirement and uses it up or passes it to their spouse as an inheritance—the  proposed IRA rules and retirement rules under the SECURE Act change almost nothing. For those looking to use their own IRA in retirement, IRAs are slightly improved due to the new ability to continue to contribute after age 70½ and other small improvements. Therefore, most typical IRA holders will be unaffected or benefit to some degree during their lifetimes.  However, for investors with large investment funds to pass to beneficiaries, the proposed IRA rules may greatly reduce the legacy left to their loved ones.

Reference: Forbes (July 16, 2019) “Are Concerns Over Stretch IRAs And The SECURE Act Justified?”

Continue Reading

Social Security Benefits – What Happens When a Spouse Dies?

Social Security benefits can change after the death of a spouse.
What happens to Social Security on the death of a spouse?

Imagine both spouses are receiving Social Security when one spouse dies. What will happen with their Social Security checks?  How does the survivor obtain death certificates? How complicated will it be to obtain survivor benefits?

First, what happens to the Social Security monthly benefits? Social Security benefits are always one month behind. The check you receive in May, for example, is the benefit payment for April.

Second, Social Security benefits are not prorated. If you took benefits at age 66, and then turned 66 on September 28, you would get a check for the whole month of September, even though you were only 66 for three days of the month.

If your spouse dies on January 28, you would not be due the proceeds of that January Social Security check, even though he or she was alive for 28 days of the month.

So, when a spouse dies, the monies for that month may have to be returned. The computer-matching systems linking the government agencies and banks may make this unnecessary, if the benefits are not issued. Or, if the benefits were issued, the Treasury Department may simply interrupt the payment and return it to the government, before it reaches a bank account.

There may be a twist, depending upon the date of the decedent’s passing. Let’s say that a spouse dies on April 3. Because he or she lived throughout the entire month of March, that means the benefits for March are due, even though they are paid in April. If a check was not issued or sent back because of the date, it should eventually be reissued.

Obtaining death certificates is usually handled by the funeral director, or the city, county or state bureaus of vital statistics. You will need more than one original death certificate for use with banks, investments, etc. The Social Security office may or may not need one, as they may receive proof of death from other sources, including the funeral home.

If you were already receiving spousal benefits on the deceased spouse’s work record, Social Security will in most cases switch you automatically to survivor benefits when the death is reported.  Otherwise, you will need to apply for survivor benefits by phone at the 800 number for Social Security or in person at your local Social Security office.

If you had only received a spousal benefit as a non-working spouse and you are over full retirement age, then you receive whatever your spouse was receiving at the time of his or her death. If you were getting your own retirement benefits, keep in mind that you will not receive a survivor benefit in addition to your own retirement benefits. Social Security will pay the higher of the two amounts.

Survivor benefits will begin effective on the month of your spouse’s death. If your spouse dies on June 28, then you will be due survivor benefits for the entire month of June, even if you were only a widow or widower for three days of the month. No matter what type of claim you file, you will also receive a one-time $255 death benefit.

Reference: Tuscon.com (March 13, 2019) “Social Security and You: What to do when a loved one dies”

Suggested Key Terms:

Continue Reading