Buying long-term care insurance is one way to protect against the high cost of long-term care. However, this type of insurance may not be for everyone, so consider all your options.
Long-term care – care in a nursing home or at home — may be paid for in four main ways:
Out-of-pocket. If you have sufficient resources, you can pay for your long-term care needs with money you have saved.
Medicare. Medicare covers short-term nursing home stays after an illness or injury that requires hospitalization. Medicare covers up to 100 days of “skilled nursing care” per illness.
Medicaid. If you have limited resources, Medicaid will pay for nursing home care. In order to be eligible for Medicaid benefits a nursing home resident may have no more than $2,000 in “countable” assets (it may be higher in some states).
Long-term care insurance. With long-term care insurance, you pay monthly premiums to buy a policy that pays your long-term care costs if you are admitted to a nursing home or need home care (depending on the policy).
Determining whether you need long-term care insurance depends, in part, on your financial situation. The cost of a long-term care insurance policy varies considerably, depending on your age when you purchase the policy, the benefit period, and the level of benefits, among other things, but the premiums can be expensive. Therefore, if you have the resources to self-insure your long-term care and still have money left over, you likely don’t need to buy a long-term care policy. On the other hand, if you cannot afford to pay monthly long-term care premiums, you will likely be able to qualify for Medicaid.
Another factor to consider is your family’s health history. Most nursing home stays are short-term and paid for by Medicare. A common reason for needing extended long-term care is dementia. If you know you have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, for example, it may make more sense to buy insurance.
Of course, we never really know what the future may bring. Long-term care insurance is like any insurance policy: we don’t know if we will ever need it. In general, long-term care insurance is something to consider if:
you have the resources to pay the premiums, even in retirement,
you want to preserve your estate for your heirs, and
COVID vaccines are starting to roll out to nursing homes across the country, signaling the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Once your loved one has had both doses of the vaccine, you may be able to visit, but precautions are still necessary.
The federal government entered into a partnership with CVS and Walgreens to deliver the vaccines to nursing home residents, who have high priority for being vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. The pharmacy companies began administering vaccines in 12 states in mid-December and will expand to 36 states before year’s end. Both the Pfizer the Moderna vaccines require two shots three or four weeks apart.
Restrictions on nursing home visitors vary from state to state, with some states limiting them and others allowing more visitation. Currently, the CDC recommends that nursing homes allow indoor visitors if the facility has had no COVID cases for 14 days. Once vaccines have been distributed, restrictions may ease further.
According to the New York Times, experts recommend that to be safe, you should wait until two weeks after your loved one gets the second dose of the vaccine before visiting. The safest time to visit would be after all the residents and staff have been vaccinated and you receive the vaccine as well. Even if you and your loved one are vaccinated, you should still wear a mask when visiting. As long as COVID is spreading in the community, mask wearing is still recommended.
Noting that the vast majority of older adults with chronic conditions live at home, long-term care consultant Howard Gleckman asserts that these vulnerable adults along with their caregivers should also be vaccinated as soon as possible. As states ration their limited initial supplies of the vaccines, Gleckman says, “they should remember the millions of people who are at high risk of severe illness or death from the virus, but who are living at home.”
For more information about the vaccine rollout to nursing homes, click here and here.
While it may seem great to inherit a vacation house, in actuality it may not be practical to keep the property, especially for tax reasons.
There are many factors to consider when inheriting property, including taxes, any mortgage, and other owners. But if you know you do not plan to keep the property, it is better to sell it sooner, rather than later.
Property like a house or stocks usually appreciates in value and is worth more than it was when the original owner purchased it. If you were to sell the property, there could be huge capital gains taxes. Fortunately, when you inherit property, the property’s tax basis is “stepped up,” which means the basis would be the property’s value on the date of death.
For example, suppose you inherit a house that was purchased years ago for $150,000 and is now worth $350,000. You will receive a step up from the original cost basis from $150,000 to $350,000. If you sell the property right away, you will not owe any capital gains taxes. If you hold on to the property and sell it for, say, $400,000 in a few years, you will owe capital gains on $50,000 (the difference between the sale price and the stepped-up basis).
If the property is located in a different state from where you live, be warned that there may be a tax for selling real estate and moving to a new state. For example, New Jersey has an “exit tax” on the profits from any sale when you are moving out of state.
Revocable trusts are a very popular and useful estate planning tool. But the trust will be ineffective if you do not actually place your assets in the trust.
Revocable trusts are an effective way to avoid probate and provide for asset management in the event of incapacity. In addition, revocable trusts — sometimes called “living” trusts — are incredibly flexible and can achieve many other goals, including tax, long-term care, and asset-protection planning.
However, you can’t take advantage of what the trust has to offer if you don’t place your assets into it. If you don’t fund the trust, your assets may have to go through a costly probate proceeding or be distributed to beneficiaries you did not intend. Not funding your trust can undermine your whole estate plan.
To transfer assets to the trust, whether real estate, bank accounts, or investment accounts, you need to retitle the assets in the name of the trust. To place bank and investment accounts into your trust, you need to retitle them as follows: “[your name and co-trustee’s name] as Trustees of [trust name] Revocable Trust created by agreement dated [date].” Depending on the institution, you might be able to change the name on an existing account. Otherwise you will need to open a new account in the name of the trust and then transfer the funds. The financial institution will probably require a copy of the trust, or at least of the first page and the signature page, as well as signatures of all the trustees. As long as you are serving as your own trustee or co-trustee, you can use your Social Security number for the trust. If you are not a trustee, the trust will have to obtain a separate tax identification number and file a separate 1041 tax return each year. You will still be taxed on all of the income and the trust will pay no separate tax.
If you are placing real estate into the trust, you should consult with your attorney to ensure it is done correctly. You should also consult with your attorney before placing life insurance or annuities into a revocable trust. And consult with your attorney before naming the trust as the beneficiary of your IRAs or 401(k) because that could have tax consequence.
Once your trust is fully funded, don’t forget about it. When you acquire new assets, do not forget to add them to the trust. You should review your trust annually to make sure everything is titled properly.
Allocating your personal possessions can be one of the most difficult tasks when creating an estate plan. To avoid family feuds after you are gone, it is important to have a plan and make your wishes clear.
When passing on possessions to your heirs, savings and investments are easy to divide up, since they can be turned into cash. Real estate can also be turned into cash or co-owners can share it. The most difficult items to divvy up are personal possessions—silverware, dishes, artwork, furniture, tools, jewelry — items that are unique and don’t have a set resale value. In legal speak, these are known as “tangible personal property” and can become the focus of family fights. Often one or more children claim that a parent had promised them a particular item. Things may disappear from a house or an apartment shortly before or after a parent's death, or a child may claim that her 90-year-old somewhat-demented mother “gave” her a cherished diamond ring during life. These types of situations can create great suspicion and irrevocably split families. Siblings may stop communicating due to their anger and distrust.
Clarity about one's wishes can go a long way toward avoiding these difficulties. Also, it's important that the personal representative of an estate (also called an executor) secure the deceased person's residence as soon as possible after death to make sure items don't disappear. Here are a few steps you or the personal representative of your estate can take to make sure splitting up your stuff doesn't split up your family:
List the most important or valuable items in your will. While your will could get very long if you tried to list all of your possessions, you may have a few family heirlooms or valuable artworks that you want to stay in the family. It may be easier for all concerned if you say who should get what. But talk with your children or other family members first to determine who values which items most.
Direct that certain items be sold. If you have one or more possessions that have much greater value than others, it can be difficult to make your distributions equal. It may make more sense to sell the items of greatest value and distribute the proceeds. For example, in a family whose parents were able to save one painting by a famous artist when they fled Europe during the Holocaust, the children sold the painting and split the proceeds equally, since it would not have been fair for any one of them to have received the painting and none had the resources to buy out the other two. The painting was auctioned at Christie's and they were all quite happy with the results.
Write a memorandum. You can write a list of who should receive what item. If your will references the list, it will be enforceable. Be careful about how you describe each item so that there is no confusion. Unlike your will, this list can be as long as you like, and you can change it without having to go back and redo your will. Send a copy to your lawyer as well as any updates as they occur to ensure the list doesn't get lost or ignored when the time comes.
Give everything away now. Well, perhaps not everything, but the more you disburse during life, the less that will have to be dealt with at death. When you make gifts, make sure that everyone knows about it so that the person receiving the gift is not suspected of having pilfered your jewelry box, for instance. There may be items that you would like to give away, but still want in your house. This is especially true of artwork and furniture. As long as the new owner is agreeable, you can keep these items around. You might want to tape a note to the back or underside explaining that the Rembrandt, for instance, belongs to your daughter, Jane. (Of course, if it is a Rembrandt, you will need to file a gift tax return and a transfer document.) Be aware that for highly-appreciated property, for tax reasons, it may be better not to make gifts during life because they'll lose the step-up in basis. So check with your estate planning attorney or tax accountant first.
Get an appraisal. For the tax reasons referenced above and to guide you in deciding who should get what, it can be useful to know the monetary value of the items you're giving away, whether during life or at death. This can also be very important for your personal representative and for your heirs in making their decisions.
Use a lottery. If you do not made choices regarding your estate plan, your personal representative may want to set up a lottery system for distributing the tangible assets. The representative can put names or numbers into a hat and someone can draw them out to determine the order in which the family members or other heirs will choose items. In order to inform the process, the personal representative should create a list of the most valuable items, including their appraisal value if one has been obtained. If everyone is in the same location at the same time, they can simply take turns. If that's not possible, the personal representative can add pictures to the list to help identify the items and the beneficiaries can choose online, informing the personal representative of their choices as their turns come up. The order of who chooses can change each round, whether reversing or moving along progressively. Here's the distinction between these two alternatives:
Bidding. A more complicated structure would be to provide all of the heirs the same number of tokens or points that they can use to bid on the various items. For instance, someone who really wants one painting or photo album more than anything else could put all the tokens on that. Someone who doesn't care as much would bid fewer tokens. The complication in this approach is what happens after an item is gone. Certainly, anyone who used up his or her tokens “winning” an item in the first round is out, but can those who lost reallocate their tokens to other items? A variation on this theme would be for everyone to rank the items by preference. When there's no competition, everyone who chose an item first would get that one. When more than one person chose an item as their first choice, they might draw straws, with those losing getting to choose again.
The more you decide who gets what rather than leaving the decisions to your family, the less likely the distribution process will create family strife.
If you are experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic, you may want to consider withdrawing money from your retirement account while you still can. The special exemption allowing early withdrawals without a penalty ends soon.
Passed in March 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allows individuals adversely affected by the pandemic to make hardship withdrawals of up to $100,000 from retirement plans this year without paying the 10 percent penalty that individuals under age 59 ½ are usually required to pay. This exemption is only for withdrawals made by December 30, 2020.
If you decide to withdraw money from your retirement account, you will still have to pay income taxes on the withdrawals, although the tax burden can be spread out over three years. If you repay some or all of the funds within three years, you can file amended tax returns to get back the taxes that you paid.
To qualify for the exemption, you must meet one of the following criteria:
You or a spouse or dependent have been diagnosed with COVID-19
You or your spouse have suffered financial hardship due to the pandemic, such as a lost job, a job offer rescinded, reduced pay, business closed, or inability to work due to lack of childcare.
This step should not be taken lightly. Withdrawing money now means your retirement funds will be reduced and limits the retirement plan’s ability to grow. But for some people, it may be the best option to pay bills and avoid running up high-interest credit card debt.
For information from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on how the withdrawal exemption works, click here.