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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Coronavirus Scams are Surfacing

Several coronavirus scams are surfacing which will affect seniors most of all. Here are some scams to watch out for and reliable sources for information.

Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur is “encouraging all Marylanders to be aware of individuals attempting to profit from the coronavirus pandemic,” reported Marcia Murphy, a USAO spokeswoman.  The Cecil Whig’s recent article entitled “Maryland U.S. attorney warns of COVID-19 scams; Cecil County remains vigilant” cautions that coronavirus scams are being uncovered around the country.

Scammers have been sending e-mails to people claiming to be from local hospitals offering coronavirus vaccines for a fee. However, no vaccine is currently available for the coronavirus. Some of these criminals are using websites that appear to be legitimate but are actually fake websites that infect the users’ computers with harmful malware or seek personal information that can be later used to commit fraud. Many of these coronavirus scams prey on the most vulnerable, especially the elderly.

Effected individuals need to contact the police if they think someone has targeted them for a scam and to educate themselves on the COVID-19-related scams by checking official government websites, like the CDC.gov for information.  Many governmental groups, including at the state and local levels, are also hosting coronavirus information pages.  For example, Harris County, Texas has provided a public health page with information about the virus and resources for assistance.  http://publichealth.harriscountytx.gov/Resources/2019-Novel-Coronavirus

Individuals need to scrutinize anyone who makes a contact with them about a COVID-19 vaccine—which does not exist—and to report any such interaction to law enforcement.

Late last week, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr sent a memo to all U.S. Attorneys, in which he made the investigation of these coronavirus scams and the individuals perpetrating them a priority. Therefore, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are prepared to investigate these frauds.

The Federal Trade Commission has consumer information about coronavirus scams on its website, including a complaint form to report scammers. Elderly victims can also call the newly launched Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311), if they believe they are victims of coronavirus scams—or any other type of fraud.

In addition to selling bogus cures and infecting computers by using COVID-19-related communications, other examples of coronavirus scams include:

  • Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Those asking for donations for fraudulently, illegitimate, or non-existent charitable organizations; and
  • Scammers posing as doctors, who ask for patient information for COVID-19 testing and then use that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.

Barr asked the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19, by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by e-mailing the NCDF at disaster@leo.gov.

Reference:  Cecil Whig (March 23, 2020) “Maryland U.S. attorney warns of COVID-19 scams; Cecil County remains vigilant”

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Elder Financial Abuse Is Increasing

A recent study shows elder financial abuse is rising in retirement planning. Working with trusted advisors, other professionals and family can help.

A September 2018 Forbes report said that elder financial abuse would only get worse as we age. With 10,000 people turning age 65 every day for the decade, the demographics include a growing pool of potentially fragile retirees and the elderly, many of whom are susceptible to financial exploitation.

alphabetastock.coms recent article entitled “Elder Financial Abuse Is Rising” says that, although the criminals are out there, a lot of elder financial abuse actually begins in the retirement system, because individuals must accumulate and handle a large amount of money designed to last an entire lifetime. With $14.5 trillion in self-directed retirement accounts in the U.S., it’s a big, enticing target for financial predators.  This is on top of other forms of elder financial abuse that come from scams online, via phone calls or sometimes even from family.

Elder financial abuse includes all of the frauds and scams targeting seniors and because it’s a hidden crime, many victims opt not to report it. Those that do report the crimes, frequently don’t prosecute.

However, when it comes to trying to promote real changes that will provide some material protections, the investment, insurance, and financial services industries directly or indirectly have been showing some reticence about the potential compliance expense. Some of these companies are lobbying to maintain a status quo—one that’s on a course to see a steady rise in elder financial exploitation.

Many retirement investors think their professional financial advisors are fiduciaries who are legally bound to act in their best interests. However, that’s not always so. Many professional financial advisors need only adhere to a lower legal standard of behavior. They can’t outright tell you a lie—but they can make recommendations that don’t put the customer’s best interests as a top priority.

A GAO study found elder financial abuse to be a growing epidemic. Rather than being able to live out their golden years in safety and financial security, the lack of financial safeguards are leaving an entire (and growing) group of older Americans at risk. These seniors are often left on their own and confused as to how the advisors they entrusted with their financial security are permitted to make moves that are motivated by high commissions and self-interest. These so-called professionals aren’t required by the law to place interests of their clients ahead of their own.

Theft and illegal behavior is one small component of the elder financial exploitation. A bigger part comes from abusive financial practices, such as higher fees and complex and unsuitable advice and recommendations from professional financial advisors who aren’t fiduciaries.  It is helpful to occasionally have your financial picture reviewed by another advisor or your friends and family.  More eyes may reduce financial elder abuse.

Be sure that you are working with a financial professional who is trustworthy and has your best interests at heart.  At Galligan & Manning we have worked with many excellent advisors and would be happy to make a recommendation.

Reference: alphabetastock.com (January 11, 2020) “Elder Financial Abuse Is Rising”

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