War Veterans May Be Unaware They Qualify For VA Aid and Attendance Benefits
August 4, 2011
One of the services Elder Law and Estate Planning attorneys often provide is helping clients navigate the application procedures and bureaucratic systems for the various state and federal medical insurance programs; and one thing that remains a surprise throughout the years is how many people forget about the VA Aid and Attendance Program for war veterans.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs website, VA Aid and Attendance is “a benefit paid to wartime veterans [or their spouses] who have limited or no income, and who are age 65 or older, or, if under 65, who are permanently and totally disabled.” Unfortunately, too many veterans and their spouses are unaware that they qualify for this benefit, or even worse, have never been informed that the program exists.
An informative article in the Washington Post quotes the VA’s deputy undersecretary for disability assistance as saying that he believes they are only reaching “about one in four eligible veterans.” Part of the reason for this is that “there are a lot of veterans where it’s been 40 years or more since they’ve been on active duty. It just doesn’t occur to them there may be a benefit from the VA.”
If you are a war veteran over the age of 65 it is very likely that you and/or your spouse qualify for Aid and Attendance Benefits. Eligibility requirements include:
- You served at least 90 days of active military service 1 day of which was during a war time period. (If you entered active duty after September 7, 1980, generally you must have served at least 24 months, or the full period for which called or ordered to active duty.)
- You were discharged from service under conditions other than dishonorable.
- Your countable family income — after subtracting care and medical expenses — is below a yearly limit set by law (The yearly limit on income is set by Congress.)
- You must need help with at least one activity of daily living: dressing, eating, walking, bathing, adjusting prosthetic devices or using the toilet. Those who are blind, living in nursing homes or require in-home care may also be eligible.
For many veterans and their families the financial assistance they receive from their VA Aid and Attendance benefits can be an incredible help. Unfortunately, the application process required to receive the benefits can be daunting. “It’s not a simple process. A&A applicants must mail the forms, copies of service records, marriage certificates, proof of insurance and medical records to the regional VA office. If a third party is making the application, an additional form, 21-22-a or 21-0845, must be completed.”
This is why many veterans ask a knowledgeable Elder Law or Estate Planning attorney to help with the application process. The right attorney can help you find and fill out the correct forms, gather the necessary records and materials, and keep track of progress throughout the entire process. If you think you may be eligible for VA Aid & Attendance Benefits, check out the information on VA Pension Benefits by clicking this link: VA Pension Benefits.
Making Room For Mom & Dad: Checklist For The “Multi-Generational Household”
April 8, 2011
Throughout history, the multi-generational household has always had its place in our society. At times the multi-generational family has been common and plentiful, at other times rare and seen only on the fringes of society. In the past few years, for reasons of both economy and practicality, the percentage of Americans living in multi-generational households has been steadily rising. In fact, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal states that “In 2008, a record 49 million Americans, or 16.1% of the population, lived in households with at least two adult generations or a grandparent plus one other generation, according to the nonprofit Pew Research Center in Washington. That is up 17% from 2000.”
Although multi-generational living had fallen out of fashion in the decades prior to this, there are a number of reasons why inviting elderly parents to live with you can benefit the entire family. “By living together, families say they are better able to meet one another’s needs for child and elder care. Moreover, money saved on rent can help finance a graduate degree, a job search or a down payment on a house, or offset the costs of long-term care.”
But setting up housekeeping with your parents (or your kids) isn’t as simple as merely moving furniture, often there are financial—or even legal—details to be worked out. Here are some of the things you should discuss before you build the “in-law extension” in your home:
Will the situation be permanent or temporary? Whether your kids are moving back in until they find that dream job, or your parents are coming to live with you until they find the right retirement community, it’s important to discuss these goals and practical steps that will be taken to reach them. “Those who prefer a temporary arrangement should work out an exit strategy—for example, by estimating how long it will take a person experiencing financial problems to regain his or her footing.”
Will the “new tenants” pay rent, or make any other contribution to household expenses? If so, it is absolutely imperative to work out a rental agreement before hand. Also, the “landlord” will need to ascertain whether the rent they collect should be reported to the IRS as income. “Some landlords simply aim to cover the extra expenses they incur. In that case, they owe no taxes on the payments they receive, ” according to the source quoted in the article.
If two generations are looking to purchase a new property together, there are completely different details to be considered. “When generations join forces to purchase or modify a property, each should retain an advisor to review the tax and estate-planning consequences and protect their investment in the event the union dissolves.” Additionally, “joint ownership can pose problems for those who may need to rely on Medicaid to cover future nursing-home costs.” It is a good idea to consult with an elder law attorney before signing any contracts.
There are many benefits to living in a multi-generational household, but even with all these benefits it is hardly an agreement to be entered into lightly. Families considering taking this step should discuss it not only with the entire family, but with their financial and legal advisors.
Coming in 2012: Change for Retirees
March 12, 2011
Long-Term Care; Be Prepared in an Area of Uncertain Options
February 17, 2011
It’s flu season again, and the strain going around this year has been a difficult one, mainly because of how long it keeps its victims out of commission. So the article we recently found on Time.com about Long-Term Care seems particularly timely and relevant, if only because this year’s flu could be seen as an omen of what’s to come as Baby Boomers age into their golden years.
According to the article, “A huge wave of baby boomers may need long-term care in their golden years — and yet fewer than half have taken steps to prepare for it… two-thirds of Americans believe it’s important to plan for long-term care, but only 44% have taken steps to protect themselves.” Part of the reason for this lack of preparedness is that Baby Boomers underestimate the likelihood that they’ll need long-term care, or they overestimate the likelihood that their children or families will be able (or willing) to provide that care.
But there’s another reason why Baby Boomers are statistically unprepared for the crisis of old age; to put it simply, there aren’t any clear avenues to solid and reliable financial preparedness. “While it’s clear that not enough people are thinking about preparing for their long-term-care needs, it’s not at all clear what, if any, the best solutions are.”
Some think that extra savings in the bank will cover the cost of long-term care; others believe that government programs such as Medi-Cal or Medicare will take care of them. Unfortunately, both of these beliefs are mistaken. “The average cost of a nursing home ranges from $85,000 to $120,000 a year, while hiring an aide to spend six hours a day on average in the home starts around $40,000 a year… Medicare, meanwhile, only covers up to 100 days of long-term care and often involves co-payments. Medicaid [Medi-Cal in California]will cover long-term nursing-home care but only after the person has drained his or her savings account.”
Another solution is long-term care insurance; but even with long-term care insurance, nothing is clear cut, and too many people have found themselves paying into a policy and ending up with no return on their investment. You also need to be healthy enough to qualify for the policy. Long-term care insurance is still one of the best options out there, but “There have been horror stories of people paying premiums on long-term-care insurance policies for years, only to find the benefits won’t cover their needs 20 or 30 years down the road when health care and long-term-care costs are significantly higher.”
Another option may be Medi-Cal for those who need nursing level care. Our firm has been a leader in assisting clients with qualification, and with helping them plan their estates to enable qualification when need later arises. There are many myths associated with Medi-Cal. For more information, we invite you to download a free copy of our “Consumer’s Guide To Medi-Cal Planning“.
The best advice we can give is to do your research and ask for the help of an advisor with experience in elder law, elder care, and senior financial planning. Be prepared.
Knowledge and Communication is Key to Avoiding Family Fights
January 26, 2011
Do your adult children know which of them will be your agent under your power of attorney if something happens to you? Most people don’t want to think about Alzheimer’s, dementia, or getting old; and those who have thought about it often choose to keep their wishes secret, their documents held under lock and key until the time comes when they are needed. But according to a recent article in Reuters, one of the most critical steps a parent can take toward preventing sibling fights is to state early and openly which adult child is their choice for agent, and the order of back up successors.
“In order to avoid conflict, parents [should] sit down with their children and spell out who has been appointed and why… It’s something that really has to be thought out in advance, hopefully before a crisis has arisen and while the parent is still able to express their goals.”
Open communication can go a long way toward smoothing relationships between family members, but if that by itself isn’t enough to keep the fights to a minimum, the advice of a trusted advisor can often dispel suspicions that may be brewing just beneath the surface. But don’t wait until arguments have already exploded, the best course of action is to consult with your advisor before intervention is necessary. Asking your advisor to sit down with yourself and your family members gives each child a chance to ask questions and voice their concerns; it also gives them a chance to hear from your own lips what you’re planning and why you’re planning it. Sometimes a simple explanation may go a long way.
Government Rescinds Medicare Coverage of End-Of-Life Planning
January 15, 2011
Apparently the suspicion surrounding end-of-life planning is not as far in the past as we might have hoped. The recent Medicare regulation which would have allowed the government to pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care was rescinded only days after it was enacted.
Why such an abrupt turnaround? The reason is probably not too difficult to guess. Most people know that Medicare-covered end-of-life planning has a tempestuous history both in politics and in the media. This article in the New York Times stated that “while administration officials cited procedural reasons for changing the rule, it was clear that political concerns were also a factor.”
The alteration of the rule may be disappointing, but it shouldn’t stop you from thinking—or talking to your doctor—about your choices for your own end-of-life care. After all, this administrative change of heart does not alter the fact that having these discussions with your doctor (as well as with your health care agent and loved ones) preserve patient autonomy at a time when events may seem to spiral out of control. As National Public Radio pointed out in their article, “it remains perfectly legal for physicians to talk with patients during annual visits paid for by Medicare about how much or little care they want when facing a terminal illness.”
Media firestorms and political debate notwithstanding, your decisions about your end-of-life care are important. When you have these discussions with your doctor and loved ones, and when you have a living will or healthcare directive in place, you are far more likely to get the care you want at the end of your life, regardless of how invasive or restrained you want that care to be.
If you have reservations about what a health care directive might mean to your future medical care, or if you have any questions about this issue, you should discuss your concerns with both your doctor and your elder law or estate planning attorney. Appropriate legal documents can be drafted that will address your wishes and be clear to your physician.
Technology for the Older Generation
January 7, 2011
There is a common complaint among Baby Boomers when it comes to aging parents and grandparents: It’s hard to keep in touch with them. Most communication among the middle and younger generations now takes place on the computer—e-mail, Facebook, electronic photo-sharing and more. Very rarely do we pick up the phone for a good old-fashioned chat; and when we do it’s usually on the go, in the form of a quick call or text message from our cell phones. Unfortunately, where all this technology helps us to be more connected to friends and family in our own cohort, it ends up leaving our elderly loved ones out of the conversation.
Karen Stabiner, in her article “Elder Tech: What’s Important” argues that it doesn’t have to be this way. Stabiner states that the key to getting elderly relatives involved in high-tech communication is to get out of our own heads and look at it from their point of view. “For technology to become ‘sticky’ with the older generation, we have to get into their heads and understand what would make them think this is fun… The bells and whistles that might attract us are too often counterintuitive [for them.]”
The younger, tech-savvy generations tend to look for high-tech devices that do everything, but that’s not necessarily what’s going to be appealing to grandma or grandpa. This article in GrayTimes.com suggests that single-purpose gadgets—devices designed only for e-mail or only for sharing photos—are more intuitive for elderly users.
New high-tech devices may be harder for parents or grandparents to use, but being able to connect with their loved ones can be a huge motivating factor. Being able to communicate with family makes our elderly parents and grandparents happy, but it also helps keep them safe. Adult children who communicate with their parents on a regular basis are better able to recognize and respond when mom or dad suddenly have trouble caring for themselves.
Adult Children and Elderly Parents: Caring for Each Other
December 24, 2010
The idea of adult children caring for aging parents or grandparents is not a new one. In fact, with the aging Baby-Boomer population, adult children giving up free time or extra hours at work to care for relatives is a growing trend. But recently families have begun creating “caregiver compensation agreements,” something which can end up benefiting both parties in a number of ways.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “the high unemployment rate, the rising cost of nursing-home care, an aging population, and a 2006 change in Medicaid law that makes it harder for people who wish to qualify to give away assets” are all contributing factors to the growing trend of these compensation agreements among family members. Note: Medicaid is called “Medi-Cal” in California.
How can it help you?
If you’re a caregiver the benefits of a caregiver compensation agreement are fairly self explanatory. “Some 37% of caregivers surveyed by the NAC in 2007 said they had quit a job or reduced their hours to accommodate their responsibilities,” some kind of compensation seems only fair. And if you feel uncomfortable taking “wages” from your parents, there are other ways to arrange for compensation. “Attorneys say many families pay an hourly wage. As an estate-planning tactic, others opt for annual gifts or a lump-sum payment designed to cover services over an extended period. Some arrange for the caregiver to receive a larger inheritance.” It will all depend on what works best for your family.
If you’re the one receiving the care, compensation agreements can benefit you as well. Paying a family caregiver can help you deplete your savings and qualify for Medi-Cal, which might then help if you later need a nursing home subsidy. Doing so can also help you reduce your taxable estate, as well as give a gift of sorts to younger family members who may be in need. Remember the Medi-Cal rules are tricky, so best to enlist the help of an Elder Law attorney before creating any care contracts.
However you may decide to structure your compensation agreement, disclosure can be of the utmost importance. Make other family members aware of the agreement up front to avoid suspicion or hurt feelings later on.