State, Not Nursing Home, Must Pay Fees of Residents’ Court-Appointed Guardianship Attorney

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In two separate cases, a Maryland appeals court rules that a nursing home does not have to pay attorney’s fees to an attorney appointed to represent residents in guardianship proceedings. Rather, the state must pay the fees, at a much lower reimbursement rate. In Re Jon (Md. Ct. Spec. App., No. 361, Feb. 8, 2019) and In Re Selby (Md. Ct. Spec. App., No.360, Feb. 8, 2019).

When family members were not able to assist with the Medicaid applications of two nursing home residents, the nursing home filed petitions for guardianship of the residents, Hyung Bok Jon and Margo Selby. The court appointed attorney Nina Helwig to represent both residents. The court-appointed guardians for the residents and Ms. Helwig filed a petition for attorney’s fees. Ms. Helwig claimed that because both residents were indigent and could not pay the fees, the nursing home should pay them.

The nursing home opposed the fee petitions, arguing that the state is required to pay attorney’s fees when the ward is indigent. State law requires the state to pay attorney’s fee in a guardianship of the person case, but there is no attorney’s fee provision in guardianship of the property cases. A state rule interpreting the statute, however, provides that the state must pay attorney’s fees. Ms. Helwig argued that the nursing home benefited from her services because the residents needed a guardian to qualify for Medicaid and that the rate paid by the state was $75 per hour, which is $175 less than her hourly rate. The trial court ordered the nursing home to pay the attorney’s fees in both cases, and the nursing home appealed.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reverses both cases, holding that the state is required to pay attorney’s fees for indigent clients in guardianship cases. According to the court, the rule requiring the state to pay attorney’s fees is not inconsistent with the statute simply because the statute does not make a provision for attorney’s fees.

2019 Will Bring Social Security Beneficiaries the Biggest Increase in Eight Years

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The Social Security Administration has announced a 2.8 percent increase in benefits in 2019, the largest increase since 2012.  The change will put an additional $468 anually in the pocket of the average retired beneficiary.

Cost of living increases are tied to the consumer price index, and an upturn in inflation rates and gas prices means recipients get a boost in 2019. The 2.8 percent increase is higher than last year’s 2 percent rise and the .3 percent increase in 2017. The average monthly benefit of $1,422 in 2018 will increase by $39 a month to $1,461 a month for an individual beneficiary, or $468 yearly. The cost of living change also affects the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax, which will grow from $128,700 to $132,900.

And there is more good news: Unlike last year’s increase, the additional income should not be entirely eaten up by higher Medicare Part B premiums. The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B enrollees will increase only $1.50 to $135.50.

For 2019, the monthly federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment standard will be $771 for an individual and $1,157 for a couple.

Most beneficiaries will be able to find out their cost of living adjustment online by logging on to my Social Security in December 2018. While you will still receive your increase notice by mail, in the future you will be able to choose whether to receive your notice online instead of on paper.

For more on the 2019 Social Security benefit levels, click here.

DOWNLOAD OUR FREE ELDER LAW GUIDES > Click here

The Law Offices of Brian A. Raphan, PC

7 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10001

www.RaphanLaw.com

2019 Guidelines Used to Protect the Spouses of Medicaid Applicants

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released the 2019 federal guidelines for how much money the spouses of institutionalized Medicaid recipients may keep, as well as related Medicaid figures.

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In 2019, the spouse of a Medicaid recipient living in a nursing home (called the “community spouse”) may keep as much as $126,420 without jeopardizing the Medicaid eligibility of the spouse who is receiving long-term care. Called the “community spouse resource allowance,” this is the most that a state may allow a community spouse to retain without a hearing or a court order. While some states set a lower maximum, the least that a state may allow a community spouse to retain in 2019 will be $25,284.

Meanwhile, the maximum monthly maintenance needs allowance for 2019 will be $3,160.50. This is the most in monthly income that a community spouse is allowed to have if her own income is not enough to live on and she must take some or all of the institutionalized spouse’s income. The minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance for the lower 48 states remains $2,057.50 ($2,572.50 for Alaska and $2,366.25 for Hawaii) until July 1, 2019.

In determining how much income a particular community spouse is allowed to retain, states must abide by this upper and lower range. Bear in mind that these figures apply only if the community spouse needs to take income from the institutionalized spouse. According to Medicaid law, the community spouse may keep all her own income, even if it exceeds the maximum monthly maintenance needs allowance.

The new spousal impoverishment numbers (except for the minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance) take effect on January 1, 2019.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF MEDICAID PLANNING click here.

Home Equity Limits:

In 2019, a Medicaid applicant’s principal residence will not be counted as an asset by Medicaid unless the applicant’s equity interest in the home is less than $585,000, with the states having the option of raising this limit to $878,000.

Income Cap:

In order to qualify for Medicaid, a nursing home resident’s income must not be above a certain level. Most states allow individuals to spend down their excess income on their care until they reach the state’s income standard. But other states impose an “income cap,” which means no spend-down is allowed.

READ THE TOP 8 MEDICAID PLANNING MISTAKES >

Any questions? Email medicaid@raphanlaw.com

Regards,

Brian A. Raphan, Esq.

Keep an eye on your parents savings accounts, not just your own…

Protecting your assets should be on the radar for every baby boomer. It will help your elder years be less stressful and offer you more lifestyle and health care options. However, don’t let that sideline you from looking after your parents assets as they age and are less capable of managing their savings and investment accounts. Below is an article from The New York Times revealing what can happen if accounts and your involvement are overlooked.

Via The New York Times  By Tara Siegel Bernard 8/24/18

Caring for Aging Parents, With an Eye on the Broker Handling Their Savings

Tracey Dewart faced a daunting task last summer: moving her 84-year-old mother, Aerielle, from her Manhattan apartment to an assisted living facility in Brooklyn. Her mother, who has Alzheimer’s, didn’t want to go, but there was little choice after she was found wandering near her home on the Upper East Side several times.

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It was “physically and emotionally a horrible and overwhelming time,” said Ms. Dewart, 58. “It felt like there had been a death in the family as we had to sort through all of my parents’ belongings.”

And she was about to confront another ordeal — one that could serve as a cautionary tale for anyone who helps manage their parents’ money and, more broadly, anyone who does business with an investment broker.

To help pay for her mother’s care, Ms. Dewart relied on an investment account at J.P. Morgan Securities that her 89-year-old father, Gordon, opened at least eight years ago. The account was already paying expenses for Ms. Dewart’s father — who, after two strokes, was living in the residence that his wife was moving to — and for Ms. Dewart’s younger sister, who lives in a community for adults with developmental disabilities.

Around the time of her mother’s move, Ms. Dewart noticed what looked like unusual activity in the account, which she and her older sister had overseen for about four years. A closer look revealed that it was down $100,000 in a month.

“My own accounts were rallying, so I thought this was strange,” she said.

She notified the firm that something seemed awry. As someone who does research and policy analysis for a living, she also put her own skills to work.

She pored over piles of statements and trade confirmations, built spreadsheets and traded phone calls and emails with the broker who handled the account, Trevor Rahn, his manager and the manager’s manager. She hired a lawyer and worked with a forensic consultant.

After about six months, she learned that the account, worth roughly $1.3 million at the start of 2017, had been charged $128,000 in commissions that year — nearly 10 percent of its value, and about 10 times what many financial planners would charge to manage accounts that size.

In August 2017 alone, Mr. Rahn had sold two-thirds of the portfolio, or about $822,000, and then reinvested most of the proceeds, yielding about $47,600 in commissions, according to monthly financial statements and an analysis by Genesis Forensic Consulting, the firm Ms. Dewart’s lawyer hired.

A statement listed all 344 trades that month as “unsolicited” — meaning, in Wall Street terms, that they were the customer’s idea, not the broker’s. But Ms. Dewart said she had not authorized the transactions and had only discussed a few specific ideas with Mr. Rahn, including possibly selling some Exxon shares if cash was needed.

An August 2017 statement showed that the Dewarts’ portfolio was down about $100,000 in a month and that roughly two-thirds of the stocks in it had been sold in that time.

Something else was unusual. Mr. Rahn was selling stocks in small batches multiple times a day. In April 2017, he sold between 75 and 125 shares of Exxon eight times in one day, rather than all at once, generating commissions on each sale.

“These are not just bad choices,” said Laura Levasseur, the president of Genesis Forensic. “This is frantic trading.”

Ms. Dewart also discovered that the Exxon stock and other investments were being held in a margin account, which lets customers use borrowed shares to make bigger bets, potentially amplifying gains and losses. She said she never approved opening such an account.

“I had implicitly trusted Trevor because my father did,” she said. Her father had first put his investments in Mr. Rahn’s care when the broker was at Deutsche Bank, and had followed him to J.P. Morgan in 2010.

About five months after Ms. Dewart questioned Mr. Rahn’s handling of the account, J.P. Morgan had canceled 681 of the 1,499 transactions for 2017, crediting about $84,000 in commissions, according to Genesis. That left 818 trades and commissions totaling about $44,000 for the year — about 3.8 percent of the account’s value, still triple what many financial planners would charge.

Ms. Dewart considered taking J.P. Morgan to arbitration as allowed by the customer agreement, but she settled instead for a sum that she is prohibited from discussing.

In a statement, J.P. Morgan said, “The client agreed to an appropriate resolution of this matter in June.” The firm said it was committed to doing the right thing for its clients, and was “disappointed when any feel their expectations haven’t been met.”

Mr. Rahn, who still works at J.P. Morgan, and the two managers at the firm with whom Ms. Dewart dealt did not respond to emails seeking comment.Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 10.40.46 AM

Ms. Dewart’s experience leaves many questions unanswered. Her broker was not authorized to trade without permission, so why did he? Why was such a large stock sold in so many small transactions? Were other customers subject to similar trading activity? She said a firm manager told her that there had been a system error — what kind?

The episode also underscores the murky regulatory territory that brokers inhabit. They are not necessarily fiduciaries, meaning they do not always have to act in a client’s best interest. Instead, brokers typically only have to recommend investments that are “suitable,” a lower standard. Ms. Dewart said Mr. Rahn’s supervisor had told her that “any transaction the adviser does is meant to be done with the client’s knowledge,” but that had not happened

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“I knew that I did not know enough about equities to sign off on a massive restructuring,” she said. “And he restructured twice.”

Excessive and unauthorized trading are among the top complaints in customer arbitration cases, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or Finra. Just last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued an alert about churning, a term for excessive trading, to help investors identify warning signs.

There were 166 cases of unauthorized trading in 2017, 209 in 2016 and 145 in 2015, Finra said. There were 142 complaints for excessive trading in 2017.

Because Ms. Dewart settled her case, it was not included in last year’s count, suggesting that Finra’s statistics understate the number of complaints raised with brokerage firms. And many investors who settle such cases sign confidentiality clauses, securities lawyers said. (Ms. Dewart said she was unable to speak about the terms and conditions of her settlement.)

Commission-based accounts like the one Ms. Dewart had can be economical for investors who don’t require many changes to their portfolios. But because brokers are only paid each time they conduct a transaction, their interests are not necessarily aligned with those of their clients.

Big brokerage and financial services firms have been shifting to accounts that charge a flat annual fee for management services, reducing the potential for conflicts of interest.

The shift accelerated in anticipation of a consumer-protection rule crafted by the Department of Labor during the Obama administration that required all financial professionals to put their customers’ interests ahead of their own, at least when handling retirement accounts. Merrill Lynch went as far as banning commission-based retirement accounts. The rule was struck down by a federal appeals court in June, and Merrill has said it was considering reversing that policy.

In April, the S.E.C. proposed a new rule that it said would require brokers to put their clients’ interests first. Consumer advocates have come out against the proposal, arguing that it does not go far beyond what is already required of brokers.

“If the rule did what they say it does, we’d support it,” said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America. “But it just flat doesn’t.”

A stronger rule may not have helped Ms. Dewart, but she said the current structure was stacked against consumers.

“There is a point,” she said, “where, out of sheer exhaustion, people surrender to the system.”

Read about using Trusts for Asset Protection>

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Article: Nursing Homes Routinely Mask Low Staff Levels

Via New York Times By Jordan Rau

ITHACA, N.Y. — Most nursing homes had fewer nurses and caretaking staff than they had reported to the government for years, according to new federal data, bolstering the long-held suspicions of many families that staffing levels were often inadequate.

The records for the first time reveal frequent and significant fluctuations in day-to-day staffing, with particularly large shortfalls on weekends. On the worst staffed days at an average facility, the new data show, on-duty personnel cared for nearly twice as many residents as they did when the staffing roster was fullest.

The data, analyzed by Kaiser Health News, come from daily payroll records Medicare only recently began gathering and publishing from more than 14,000 nursing homes, as required by the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Medicare previously had been rating each facility’s staffing levels based on the homes’ own unverified reports, making it possible to game the system.

The payroll records provide the strongest evidence that over the last decade, the government’s five-star rating system for nursing homes often exaggerated staffing levels and rarely identified the periods of thin staffing that were common. Medicare is now relying on the new data to evaluate staffing, but the revamped star ratings still mask the erratic levels of people working from day to day.

Stan Hugo with his wife, Donna, who is a resident at the Beechtree 
Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Ithaca, N.Y. Mr. Hugo 
tracks staffing levels at the skilled nursing facility.

At the Beechtree Center for Rehabilitation & Nursing here, Jay Vandemark, 47, who had a stroke last year, said he often roams the halls looking for an aide not already swamped with work when he needs help putting on his shirt.

Especially on weekends, he said, “It’s almost like a ghost town.”

Nearly 1.4 million people are cared for in skilled nursing facilities in the United States. When nursing homes are short of staff, nurses and aides scramble to deliver meals, ferry bedbound residents to the bathroom and answer calls for pain medication. Essential medical tasks such as repositioning a patient to avert bedsores can be overlooked when workers are overburdened, sometimes leading to avoidable hospitalizations.

Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits >

“Volatility means there are gaps in care,” said David Stevenson, an associate professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. “It’s not like the day-to-day life of nursing home residents and their needs vary substantially on a weekend and a weekday. They need to get dressed, to bathe and to eat every single day.”

David Gifford, a senior vice president at the American Health Care Association, a nursing home trade group, disagreed, saying there are legitimate reasons staffing varies. On weekends, for instance, there are fewer activities for residents and more family members around, he said.

“While staffing is important, what really matters is what the overall outcomes are,” he said.

While Medicare does not set a minimum resident-to-staff ratio, it does require the presence of a registered nurse for eight hours a day and a licensed nurse at all times.

The payroll records show that even facilities that Medicare rated positively for staffing levels on its Nursing Home Compare website, including Beechtree, were short nurses and aides on some days. On its best staffed days, Beechtree had one aide for every eight residents, while on its lowest staffed days, there was only one aide for 18 residents. Nursing levels also varied.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees nursing home inspections, said in a statement that it “is concerned and taking steps to address fluctuations in staffing levels” that have emerged from the new data. This month, it said it would lower ratings for nursing homes that had gone seven or more days without a registered nurse.

Beechtree’s payroll records showed similar staffing levels to those it had reported before. David Camerota, chief operating officer of Upstate Services Group, the for-profit chain that owns Beechtree, said in a statement that the facility has enough nurses and aides to properly care for its 120 residents. But, he said, like other nursing homes, Beechtree is in “a constant battle” to recruit and retain employees even as it has increased pay to be more competitive.

Mr. Camerota wrote that weekend staffing is a special challenge as employees are guaranteed every other weekend off. “This impacts our ability to have as many staff as we would really like to have,” he wrote.

New rating method is still flawed

In April, the government started using daily payroll reports to calculate average staffing ratings, replacing the old method, which relied on homes to report staffing for the two weeks before an inspection. The homes sometimes anticipated when an inspection would happen and could staff up before it.

Payroll records at Beechtree show that on its highest staffed days, it had one aide for every eight residents, but there was only one aide for 18 residents at the lowest staffing level.CreditHeather Ainsworth for The New York Times

“They get burned out and they quit,” said Adam Chandler, whose mother lived at Beachtree until her death earlier this year. “It’s been constant turmoil, and it never ends.”

Medicare’s payroll records for the nursing homes showed that there were, on average, 11 percent fewer nurses providing direct care on weekends and 8 percent fewer aides. Staffing levels fluctuated substantially during the week as well, when an aide at a typical home might have to care for as few as nine residents or as many as 14.

 

A family council forms

Beechtree actually gets its best Medicare rating in the category of staffing, with four stars. (Its inspection citations and the frequency of declines in residents’ health dragged its overall star rating down to two of five.)

To Stan Hugo, a retired math teacher whose wife, Donna, 80, lives at Beechtree, staffing levels have long seemed inadequate. In 2017, he and a handful of other residents and family members became so dissatisfied that they formed a council to scrutinize the home’s operation. Medicare requires nursing home administrators to listen to such councils’ grievances and recommendations.

Sandy Ferreira, who makes health care decisions for Effie Hamilton, a blind resident, said Ms. Hamilton broke her arm falling out of bed and has been hospitalized for dehydration and septic shock.

“Almost every problem we’ve had on the floor is one that could have been alleviated with enough and well-trained staff,” Mrs. Ferreira said.

Beechtree declined to discuss individual residents, but said it had investigated these complaints and did not find inadequate staffing on those days. Mr. Camerota also said that Medicare does not count assistants it hires to handle the simplest duties like making beds.

In recent months, Mr. Camerota said, Beechtree “has made major strides in listening to and addressing concerns related to staffing at the facility.”

Mr. Hugo agreed that Beechtree has increased daytime staffing during the week under the prodding of his council. On nights and weekends, he said, it still remained too low.

His wife has Alzheimer’s, uses a wheelchair and no longer talks. She enjoys music, and Mr. Hugo placed earphones on her head so she could listen to her favorite singers as he spoon-fed her lunch in the dining room on a recent Sunday.

As he does each day he visits, he counted each nursing assistant he saw tending residents, took a photograph of the official staffing log in the lobby and compared it to what he had observed. While he fed his wife, he noted two aides for the 40 residents on the floor — half what Medicare says is average at Beechtree.

“Weekends are terrible,” he said. While he’s regularly there overseeing his wife’s care, he wondered: “What about all these other residents? They don’t have people who come in.”

This article was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. The author is a reporter for Kaiser Health News.
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Nursing Homes Routinely Mask Low Staff Levels. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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Here’s 6 good reasons you should consider a trust…

Trusts can help you control your assets and build a legacy.

Via FIDELITY VIEWPOINTS 06/06/2018

Key takeaways

  • Trusts can help pass and preserve wealth efficiently and privately.
  • Trusts can help reduce estate taxes for married couples.
  • Gain control over distribution of your assets by using trusts.
  • With a trust, you can ensure that your retirement assets are distributed as you’ve planned.

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If you haven’t stopped to consider how a trust may help you pass your wishes and wealth on, you could be making a critical estate planning mistake. Especially for individuals with substantial assets, protecting wealth for future generations should be top of mind.

“People often fail to appreciate the power a trust can have as part of a well-crafted estate plan, but that can be a costly mistake,” says Rodney Weaver, estate planning specialist at Fidelity. “Trusts are flexible and powerful tools that can be used to gain greater control over how they pass their wealth to future generations.”

A trust is a legal structure that contains a set of instructions on exactly how and when to pass assets to trust beneficiaries. There are many types of trusts to consider, each designed to help achieve a specific goal. An estate planning professional can help you determine which type (or types) of trust is most appropriate for you. However, an understanding of the estate planning goals that a trust may help you achieve is a good starting point. Also, please note that this information is based on current tax law.

Benefits of a trust

An effective trust begins with documentation carefully drafted by a qualified attorney with knowledge of your specific situation as well as current laws. Without the appropriate documentation, you and your beneficiaries may not reap the benefits of a trust, some of which are described below.

1. Pass wealth efficiently and privately to your heirs

Perhaps the most powerful and straightforward way to use a trust is to ensure that your heirs have timely access to your wealth. When you transfer your assets to your beneficiaries through a will, your estate is settled through a procedure known as “probate,” which is conducted in state courts. However, probate is a public, legal process that can carry with it some unforeseen negative consequences for the administration of your estate, including:

  • Delays: Probate proceedings will take time, some may take longer than a year. Additionally, if you own property located in states other than your home state, probate may be required in each such state.
  • Costs: Probate fees can be quite substantial, even for the most basic case with no conflict between beneficiaries. A rule of thumb is that probate attorney’s fees and court fees could take over 4% of an estate’s value.1
  • Publicity: The probate process is public. When your will is admitted to probate, it becomes a public record, to be viewed by anyone who wishes to review it. Such transparency can create unwanted scrutiny.

With proper planning, the delays, costs, and loss of privacy can often be avoided.

You may be able to avoid probate and gain greater control over how your estate is settled by establishing and funding a revocable trust. Because the trust is revocable, it can be altered or amended during the grantor’s2 lifetime. After a grantor’s death, the trust acts as a will substitute and enables the trustee to privately and quickly settle the grantor’s estate without going through the probate process with respect to assets held in the trust.

A grantor can also give the trustee the power to take immediate control of the assets held in trust in the event that the grantor becomes incapacitated (and the grantor generally has the ability to define what constitutes “incapacity” within the trust document). This provision can save heirs the time, financial cost, and emotional distress of going to court to request a conservatorship or guardianship over a loved one. Finally, revocable trusts are dissolvable, meaning the grantor can generally pull assets out of the trust at any point during the grantor’s lifetime.

2. Preserve assets for heirs and favorite charities

If you have substantial assets, you may want to consider creating and funding an irrevocable trust during your lifetime. Because the trust is irrevocable, in almost all circumstances, the grantor cannot amend the trust once it has been established, nor can the grantor regain control of the money or assets used to fund the trust. The grantor gifts assets into the trust, and the trustee administers the trust for the trust beneficiaries based on the terms specified in the trust document.

Significantly, while the gift could use up some or all of a grantor’s lifetime gift tax exclusion, any future growth on these assets generally will not be includable in the grantor’s estate and therefore will escape estate taxes at the grantor’s death. The individual lifetime federal gift tax exclusion is set at $11.18 million for 2018.

Irrevocable trusts can also serve several specialized functions, including:

  • Holding life insurance proceeds outside your estate. Generally, without trust planning, the death benefit payout from a life insurance policy would be considered part of an estate for the purposes of determining whether there are estate taxes owed. However, this is not the case if the policy is purchased by an independent trustee and held in an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) that is created and funded during the grantor’s lifetime, with certain limitations (please consult your attorney).

    Despite not being subject to estate taxes at death, the life insurance proceeds received by the ILIT can be made available to pay any estate taxes due by having the insurance trust make loans to, or purchase assets from, the estate. Such loans or purchases can provide needed liquidity to the estate without either increasing the estate tax liability or changing the ultimate disposition of the assets, as long as the life insurance trust benefits the same beneficiaries as the estate does. In particular, this means that illiquid assets like real estate, or tax-inefficient assets like taxable retirement accounts, may not have to be sold or distributed quickly to meet the tax obligation.

  • Ensuring protection from creditors, including a divorcing spouse. An irrevocable trust, whether created during your lifetime or at your death, can include language that protects the trust’s assets from the creditors of, or a legal judgment against, a trust beneficiary. In particular, assets that remain in a properly established irrevocable trust are generally not considered marital property. Therefore, they generally won’t be subject to division in a divorce settlement if one of the trust’s beneficiaries gets divorced. However, a divorce court judge may consider the beneficiary’s interest in the trust when making decisions as to what constitutes an equitable division of the marital property that is subject to the court’s jurisdiction.

Keep in mind, though, that irrevocable trusts are permanent. “The trust dictates how the funds are distributed, so you want to fund this type of trust only with assets that you are certain you want to pass to the trust beneficiaries, as specified by the terms of the trust,” cautions Weaver.

3. Reduce estate taxes for married couples

For a married couple, a revocable trust may be used as part of the larger plan to take full advantage of both spouses’ federal and/or state estate tax exclusions. Upon the death of a spouse, the assets in a revocable trust can be used to fund a family trust—also known as a “credit shelter,” “bypass,” or “A/B” trust—up to the amount of that spouse’s federal or state estate tax exclusion. The assets held in the family trust can then grow free from further estate taxation at the death of the surviving spouse. Meanwhile, the balance of the assets in the revocable trust can be transferred to the surviving spouse free of estate tax pursuant to the spousal exemption. At the death of the surviving spouse, of course, these assets may be included in the surviving spouse’s estate for estate tax purposes.

The estate tax-free growth potential for funds in a family trust can be significant. Say, hypothetically, that you and your spouse live in Florida, which does not have a separate state-level estate tax, and have a net worth of $12 million. If one of you dies in 2018, that spouse’s revocable trust can fund the family trust with $11.18 million without paying any federal estate tax. Over the next 20 years, this $11.18 million could grow in value, all of which would remain outside the surviving spouse’s taxable estate.

4. Gain control over the distribution of your assets

By setting up a trust, the grantor is able to establish ways that the assets are to be passed on to the beneficiaries. For example:

  • Distributions for specific purposes. A grantor can stipulate that the trustees of a trust shall make money available to children or grandchildren only for college tuition or perhaps for future health care expenses.
  • Age-based terminations. This provision can stipulate that the trust’s assets shall be distributed to heirs at periodic intervals—for example, 30% when they reach age 40, 30% when they reach age 50, and so on.

If you are charitably inclined, you may also want to consider establishing a charitable remainder trust, which allows the grantor, and possibly the grantor’s spouse and children, to receive an annual payment from the trust during his or her lifetime, with the balance transferring to the specified charity when the trust terminates. The grantor may also receive an income tax charitable deduction based on the charity’s remainder interest when property is contributed to the charitable remainder trust.

For more on charitable trusts, read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: Charitable giving that gives back.

5. Ensure that your retirement assets are distributed as you’ve planned

You may be concerned that a beneficiary of a retirement account will liquidate that account and incur a large income tax obligation in that year as a result. To help alleviate that concern, by naming a properly created trust as the beneficiary of a retirement account at the grantor’s death, the trustee can limit withdrawals to the retirement account’s required minimum distributions (RMDs), required of each beneficiary.

6. Keep assets in your family

You may be concerned that if your surviving spouse remarries, your assets could end up benefiting their new family rather than your own loved ones. In this case, a qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) trust provision can be used to provide for a surviving spouse while also ensuring that at their subsequent death, the remainder of the trust’s assets are ultimately transferred to the beneficiaries identified by the grantor in the trust document.

Building your legacy

The purpose of establishing a trust is to ultimately help you better realize a vision for your estate and, in turn, your legacy. Therefore, it’s important to let your goals for your estate guide your discussion with your attorney and financial adviser as they help determine what kind of trust and provisions make sense for you. It is vitally important that the trust be properly drafted and funded, so that you and your beneficiaries can fully realize all the benefits available.

Download our Free Guide To Estate Planning here>

Let me know if you have any questions or need help setting up the best type of trust for you and your family.

Regards, Brian

Are Medicare Advantage Plans Steering Enrollees to Lower-Quality Nursing Homes?

A recent study has found that people enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan were more likely to enter a lower-quality nursing home than were people in traditional Medicare. The study raises questions about whether Medicare Advantage plans are influencing beneficiaries’ decisionmaking when it comes to choosing a nursing home. Medicare Advantage plans, an alternative to traditional Medicare, are provided by private insurers rather than the federal government.

The government pays Medicare Advantage plans a fixed monthly fee to provide services to each Medicare beneficiary under their care, and the services must at least be equal to regular Medicare’s. While the plans sometimes offer benefits that original Medicare does not, the plans usually only cover care provided by doctors in their network or charge higher rates for out-of-network care. The study, conducted by researchers at Brown University School of Public Health, examined Medicare beneficiaries entering nursing homes between 2012 and 2014. Using Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website as the measure of quality, the study found that beneficiaries in Medicare Advantage plans tended to enter lower quality nursing homes than beneficiaries in original Medicare.

This was true even when the researchers took into account the beneficiaries’ distance from the nursing home and other decision factors. Even beneficiaries enrolled in highly rated Medicare Advantage plans were more likely to enter a low-quality nursing home compared to original Medicare beneficiaries. The study does not draw any conclusions about whether the Medicare Advantage beneficiaries fared worse than original Medicare beneficiaries, only that they tended to enter facilities that had higher re-hospitalization rates and worse outcomes. The study concluded that Medicare Advantage plans may be influencing beneficiary decisionmaking around nursing home selection. According to Skilled Nursing News, one of the study’s authors speculated that a Medicare Advantage plan “might be incentivized to send patients to a given nursing home regardless of what the quality ratings are, because of a relationship with that nursing home or because they have a lot of patients in that nursing home and can better manage their care.”

Information on exactly why this is happening is “of vital policy importance,” according to the study’s authors. They recommend gathering more information about Medicare Advantage nursing home claims and re-hospitalization rates and requiring Medicare Advantage plans to be more transparent about the quality of nursing homes in their networks.

To read the study click here.

 

Copyright 2016 This article is provided as legal information, not legal advice and our law firm makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy,completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in in this article. The distribution or acceptance of this article does not constitute an attorney-client relationship with our law firm.

New Federal Law Helps To Prevent Elder Abuse

A new federal law is designed to address the growing problem of elder abuse. The law supports efforts to better understand, prevent, and combat both financial and physical elder abuse.

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The prevalence of elder abuse is hard to calculate because it is underreported, but according to the National Council on Aging, approximately 1 in 10 Americans age 60 or older have experienced some form of elder abuse. In 2011, a MetLife study estimated that older Americans are losing $2.9 billion annually to elder financial abuse.

The bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act of 2017 authorizes the Department of Justice (DOJ) to take steps to combat elder abuse. Under the new law, the federal government must do the following:

  • Create an elder justice coordinator position in federal judicial districts, at the DOJ, and at the Federal Trade Commission
  • Implement comprehensive training on elder abuse for Federal Bureau of Investigation agents
  • Operate a resource group to assist prosecutors in pursuing elder abuse cases

The law requires the DOJ to collect data on elder abuse and investigations as well as provide training and support to states to fight elder abuse. The law specifically targets email fraud by expanding the definition of telemarketing fraud to include email fraud. Prohibited actions include email solicitations for investment for financial profit, participation in a business opportunity, or commitment to a loan.

The law also addresses flaws in the guardianship system that have led to elder abuse. The law enables the government to provide demonstration grants to states’ highest courts to assess adult guardianship and conservatorship proceedings and implement changes.

“Exploiting and defrauding seniors is cowardly, and these crimes should be addressed as the reprehensible acts they are,” said Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a co-sponsor of the legislation, adding that the legislation “sends a clear signal from Congress that combating elder abuse and exploitation should be top priority for law enforcement.”

For more information about the law, click here and here.

Senior Citizens update: Puerto Rico. Hurricanes effect on elders

After a lifetime of agricultural work on the U.S. mainland, Ausberto Maldonado retired home to a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico. But he has diabetes, and especially since Hurricane Maria, has been struggling to get by.
Sarah Varney/Kaiser Health News
Straddled across Ausberto Maldonado’s backyard in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, a suburb of San Juan, is a nagging reminder of Hurricane Maria’s destructive power.

“See, that tree broke off that branch, which is as thick as a tree — and now it’s in my yard,” says Maldonado, a 65-year-old retiree.

Rats scurry from under the downed tree, preventing Maldonado from hanging his laundry. To get the tree removed, he must show up in person at a local government office. But the diabetic ulcers on his feet make it painful to walk.

After a lifetime of work on the U.S. mainland picking corn and asparagus and processing chickens in poultry plants, Maldonado returned to Puerto Rico a decade ago to help care for his ailing mother, who has since died. Today the retiree finds himself living day-to-day on the island. He receives $280 a month in Social Security and $89 a month in food stamps — or about $3 a day for food.

Six months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and its economy, the daily indignities are piling up, especially for people who are frail or elderly. Many are finding their current economic straits nearly as threatening as the storm.

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