Seniors
Prevent Osteoporosis; Protect Your Bones PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:19

021915senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

While osteoporosis is much more common in older seniors, it can strike at any age. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that half of women and up to 25 percent of men in the U.S. over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Here’s what you should know.

Who’s at Risk?

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes the bones to become brittle and weak and more susceptible to fractures. Around 10 million Americans already have osteoporosis (80 percent are women) while another 43 million have “pre-osteoporosis,” or osteopenia. But the good news is this disease is both preventable and treatable.

Most people gradually start losing some of their bone mass by the time they reach their late 30s. But for women, menopause is the time when this process really accelerates. Bone loss for men occurs much more slowly.

However, by age 75, osteoporosis is as common in men as it is in women.

Some of the key risk factors of developing osteoporosis include: being over age 50; being female; menopause; having a family history of the disease; being small and thin; having an eating disorder; not getting enough calcium and vitamin D; getting too much protein, sodium and caffeine; having an inactive lifestyle; smoking; drinking too much alcohol; taking certain medications (see nof.org/articles/6 for a list); and having certain medical conditions (see nof.org/articles/5).

To help determine risk of osteoporosis, the National Institutes of Health has a quick, online quiz you can take at bonecheckup.org.

Prevention and Treatment

A good first step is to get screened. For women, that should start around menopause, especially if you’re not taking estrogen, or anyone who has broken a bone after age 50 or who has other risk factors.

All women over 65 and men over 70 should be tested every two years — Medicare covers it. Screening for osteoporosis is a simple, painless, bone density test, which takes about five minutes.

Here’s what else you can do to protect your bones.

Boost your calcium: The best way to get bone-building calcium is through your diet. Dairy products (low-fat milk, cheeses and yogurt), dark green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards), sardines and salmon, cooked dried beans, soy foods, almonds and fortified cereals and juices are all good sources of calcium. Vitamin D is also important to help your body absorb calcium. Note: Recent studies have found that excess calcium could increase the risk of heart disease.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends 1,000 mg of calcium daily for women under age 50 and for men under 70, and 1,200 mg for women 51 and older and for men over 71.

The Foundation also recommends all adults under age 50 get 400 to 800 IU of vitamin D, or 800 to 1,000 IU if you’re over 50. If you’re not getting enough vitamin D through sunlight or food, consider taking a supplement. Most daily multivitamins contain at least 400 IU.

Exercise: Weight-bearing exercises like walking and strength training with weights or resistant bands three or four times a week can also significantly improve your bone health.

Control these vices: Avoid smoking, limit alcohol to no more than two or three drinks per day, and limit caffeine (coffee, tea or caffeinated soda) to three cups a day.

Consider medications: The most widely prescribed for osteoporosis are bisphosphonates, a class of drugs designed to slow or stop bone loss. Talk to your doctor about these and other medication options, as well as potential side effects.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.

CAPTION: The best way to boost your calcium is through your diet — low-fat milk, cheeses and yogurt; dark-green leafy vegetables; salmon; almonds; fortified juices; etc.


 
What’s the Hold-Up with Medi-Cal? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:17

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Q: About six months ago, I applied for Medi-Cal to help with my husband’s ongoing nursing home bill, and we are still waiting for a decision. I keep calling Medi-Cal, but nothing happens. The nursing home has been patient, but I do not think they can wait forever. Is there anything I can do?

A: Unfortunately, you are not alone. With the expanded eligibility for Medi-Cal provided under the Affordable Care Act, California counties have been flooded with Medi-Cal applications. The backlog at one point rose to 900,000 pending cases.

The resulting delay in processing these applications has created great hardship for applicants, whose medical needs went unattended and health deteriorated while awaiting approval.

In one case, a mother’s son died of a pulmonary embolism while awaiting approval of his application filed seven months earlier. Sadly, two months after his death, his mother finally received the long-awaited letter of approval.

Under the law, California counties are supposed to make decisions within 45 days of application, but for hundreds of thousands of deserving applicants this 45-day legal limit has been illusory.

Finally, in the Fall of last year, a group of plaintiffs — including the mother referenced above — and a coalition of legal services organizations filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court seeking to put an end to this Medi-Cal application “limbo.”

On January 20, 2015, in a case entitled Rivera vs. Douglas, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued an Order Granting Petitioner’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction. The Order was designed to put an end to the backlog and indicated the judge’s intention to make a further, more specific order to accomplish just that.

As of this writing, the precise form of that more specific Order is still under consideration by the judge. However, we expect that it will be issued very soon and that, once issued, will direct the state to take specific and immediate actions, including the following:

• To grant immediate provisional Medi-Cal benefits on all cases pending more than 45 days where eligibility appears likely, and

• To send written notice to all other applicants advising them of their right to an Administrative Fair Hearing before a judge to secure a prompt ruling on their pending applications.

So, there are several things you can do at this time:

(1) write a letter to your Medi-Cal eligibility worker making reference to the recent Rivera vs. Douglas decision [Alameda County Superior Court case No. RG14740911], and ask that your husband be granted provisional Medi-Cal benefits immediately;

(2) contact the Health Consumer Alliance (Legal Aid) for assistance at 1-888-804-3536;

(3) make a written request for an Administrative Fair Hearing before a judge, sending the request to both your local Medi-Cal county office and the California Department of Healthcare Services, Appeals Unit, in Sacramento; and/or

(4) seek guidance from an elder law attorney familiar with the Medi-Cal program.

By pressing forward, my hope is that you will secure a favorable decision on your husband’s application in the very near future. Every good wish to you and your husband.

Gene L. Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward.  Visit his website at www.LawyerForSeniors.com.


 
Must I File a Tax Return This Year? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:14

By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

Whether or not you are required to file a federal income tax return this year will depend on how much you earned (gross income) — and the source of that income — as well as your filing status and your age.

Gross income includes all the income you receive that is not exempt from tax, not counting your Social Security benefits, unless you are married and filing separately.

Here’s a rundown of the IRS filing requirements for this tax season. If your 2014 gross income was below the threshold for your age and filing status, you probably won’t have to file. But if it’s over, you will.

Single: $10,150 ($11,700 if you’re 65 or older by Jan. 1, 2015).

Married filing jointly: $20,300 ($21,500 if you or your spouse is 65 or older; or $22,700 if you’re both over 65).

Married filing separately: $3,950 at any age.

Head of household: $13,050 ($14,600 if age 65 or older).

Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $16,350 ($17,550 if age 65 or older).

To get a detailed breakdown on federal filing requirements along with information on taxable and nontaxable income, call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a free copy of the “Tax Guide for Seniors” (publication 554), or see irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p554.pdf.

Special Requirements

There are, however, some other financial situations that will require you to file a tax return, even if your gross income falls below the IRS filing requirement.

For example, if you had earnings from self-employment in 2014 of $400 or more, or if you owe any special taxes to the IRS such as alternative minimum tax or IRA tax penalties, you’ll probably need to file.

To figure this out, the IRS offers a tool on its website that asks a series of questions that will help you determine if you’re required to file, or if you should file because you’re due a refund.

You can access this page at:  irs.gov/filing  and click on “Do you need to file a return?” Or, you can get assistance over the phone by calling the IRS helpline at 800-829-1040. You can also get face-to-face help at a Taxpayer Assistance Center. See irs.gov/localcontacts or call 800-829-1040 to locate a center near you.

Check Your State

Even if you’re not required to file a federal tax return this year, don’t assume that you’re also excused from filing state income taxes. The rules for California are at:  www.ftb.ca.gov/individuals/fileRtn/index.shtml.

Tax Prep Assistance

If you find that you do need to file a tax return this year, you can get free help locally.

The AARP offers free tax assistance from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Wednesday and Thursday at the Castro Valley Library, 3600 Norbridge Ave., through April 9. Appointments are required. Call 510-667-7900.

The Aitken Senior Center at 17800 Redwood Road in Castro Valley also offers free tax assistance on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Call 510-881-6738 for an appointment. The Hayward Area Senior Center at 22325 North Third St. offers free assistance on Tuesdays and Fridays. Call 510-881-6766 for an appointment.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.


 
Who Should Buy Long-term Care Insurance? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 February 2015 15:40

By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

There are two key factors — your financial situation and health history — you need to mull over that can help you decide if buying a long-term care (LTC) insurance policy is a wise decision for you. Currently, only around 8 million Americans own a policy. Here’s what you should know.

LTC Insurance?

As the cost of LTC (which includes nursing home, assisted living and in-home care) continues to skyrocket, it’s important to know that most people pay for LTC either from personal savings or Medicaid when their savings is depleted, or through an LTC insurance policy. National median average costs for nursing home care today is over $87,000 per year, while assisted living averages $42,000/year.

While national statistics show that about 70 percent of Americans 65 and older will need some kind of LTC, most people do not need to purchase an LTC insurance policy. A recent study from Boston College said only 19 percent of men and 31 percent of women should actually get one.

The reasons stem from a range of factors, including the fact that relatively few people have enough wealth to protect to make purchasing a policy worthwhile. Seniors with limited financial resources who need long-term care turn to Medicaid to pick up the tab after they run out of money.

Another important factor is that most seniors who need LTC only need it for a short period of time — for example, when they’re recovering from surgery. For those people, Medicare covers in-home health care and nursing home stays of 100 days or less following a hospital stay of more than three consecutive days.

LTC insurance policies make the most sense for people who can afford the monthly premiums, and who have assets of at least $150,000 or more that they want to protect — not counting their home and vehicles.

Another factor to weigh is your personal health and family health history. The two most common reasons seniors need extended long-term care is because of dementia and/or disability. And, almost half of all people who live in nursing homes are 85 years or older.

So, what’s your family history for Alzheimer’s, stroke or some other disabling health condition, and do you have a family history of longevity? The U.S. Surgeon General offers a free tool at familyhistory.hhs.gov to help you collect, organize and evaluate your genetic risks.

After evaluating your situation, if you’re leaning towards buying an LTC policy, be sure to do your homework. The cost of premiums can vary greatly (ranging anywhere between $1,200 and $8,000 per year for a couple), depending on your age, the insurer and the policy’s provisions.

To help you find a policy, get a long-term care insurance specialist who works with a variety of companies. See aaltci.org to locate one. Also, shop insurers like Northwestern Mutual and New York Life, who work only with their own agents.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior.”


 
Rules Tighten on Reverse Mortgages PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 February 2015 15:39

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Q: I hear that qualifying for a reverse mortgage will soon become more difficult. Is this true?

A: Yes, beginning March 2, 2015, all persons applying for a reverse mortgage under the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program will need to pass a Financial Assessment. This is new! No longer will reverse mortgages be based primarily on the borrower’s age, the value of the home and prevailing interest rates.

Now, for the very first time, qualifying will also depend upon the borrower’s income and credit history. This is a major development which will place reverse mortgages out of reach for some borrowers.

As you may know, reverse mortgage loans under the HECM program are insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). When the loans go sour, such as when the borrower fails to make real property tax payments and/or homeowner’s insurance premiums, HUD covers the default. This scenario has created significant expense to HUD, and has resulted in some homeowners losing their homes in foreclosure, causing much concern in Washington. Hence the new rule.

In the past, some borrowers have either been unwilling or unable to make property tax and insurance payments, placing the underlying security in jeopardy and triggering a default of the loan and sale of the home.

In an effort to address this problem, the new HUD rule will require applicants to demonstrate — by income and credit history — their “willingness and capacity” to timely meet their financial obligations and to comply with the mortgage requirements.

For borrowers who cannot demonstrate a satisfactory “willingness and ability” to meet these obligations throughout the life of the loan, the following are the likely new outcomes:

1) a full life-expectancy set-aside will be required out of the HECM loan proceeds, to cover all of these payments for the life expectancy of the youngest borrower; or

2) the loan will be denied.

For some borrowers, the new lifetime set-aside may be so large as to make the reverse mortgage impractical. This could occur, for example, where there is not enough equity in the home after the set-aside to generate meaningful proceeds for the borrower. This would be especially true for those borrowers who are obliged to pay off an existing mortgage as part of the reverse mortgage transaction.

While it could be argued that the new rule will make the loans “safer” for the homeowners by either imposing mandatory set-aside requirements or denying them the loans entirely, nevertheless the new rule may deprive some homeowners of the means to supplement their living expenses in retirement.

If you have been sitting on the fence about a reverse mortgage, you might consider  applying immediately so that your application is on file before the March 2 deadline.

Gene L. Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward.  Visit his website at www.LawyerForSeniors.com.


 
What Are the Pros and Cons of Reverse Mortgages? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 22 January 2015 15:38

012215sen1By Jason Alderman • Special to the Times

Over the last decade, reverse mortgages have been marketed as an easy way for seniors to cash in their home equity to pay for living expenses.

However, many have learned that improper use of the product — such as pulling all their cash out at one time to pay bills — has led to significant financial problems later, including foreclosure.

In actuality, there are some cases where reverse mortgages can be helpful to borrowers. However, it is imperative to do extensive research on these products before you sign.

Reverse mortgages are special kinds of home loans that let borrowers convert some of their home equity into cash. They come in three varieties: single-purpose reverse mortgages, Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs) and proprietary reverse mortgages.

Who can apply?

Homeowners can apply for a reverse mortgage if they are at least 62 years old, own their home outright or have a low mortgage balance that can be paid off with the proceeds of the reverse loan.

Qualifying homeowners also must have no delinquent federal debt, the financial resources to pay for upkeep, taxes and insurance, and live in the home during the life of the loan.

Consider the following pros and cons as a starting point for trying or bypassing this loan choice. Even though HECM loans require a discussion with a loan counselor, you should bring in your own financial, tax or estate advisor to help you decide whether you have a safe and appropriate use for this product.

Pros of reverse mortgages:

• They’re a source of cash. Borrowers can select that the amount of the loan be payable in a lump sum or regular payments.

• Proceeds are generally tax-free. Final tax treatment may rely on a variety of personal factors, so check with a tax professional.

• Generally, they don’t impact Social Security or Medicare payments. Again, it’s important to check personal circumstances.

• You won’t owe more than the home is worth. Most reverse mortgages have a “nonrecourse” clause, which prevents you or your estate from owing more than the value of your home when the loan becomes due and the home is sold.

• Reverse mortgages may be a smarter borrowing option for some downsizing seniors. With proper advice, some borrowers use them to buy new homes.

Cons of reverse mortgages:

• You may outlive your equity. Reverse mortgages are viewed as a “last-resort” loan option and certainly not a singular solution to spending problems.

• You and your heirs won’t get to keep your house unless you repay the loan. If your children hope to inherit your home outright, try to find some other funding solution (family loans, other conventional loan products) first.

• Fees can be more expensive than conventional loans. Reverse mortgage lenders typically charge an origination fee and higher closing costs than conventional loans. This adds up to several percentage points of your home’s value.

• Many reverse mortgages are adjustable-rate products. Adjustable rates affect the cost of the loan over time.

• If you have to move out for any reason, your loan becomes due. If you have to suddenly move into a nursing home or assisted-living facility, the loan becomes due after you’ve left your home for a continuous year.

Bottom line: Reverse mortgages have become a popular, if controversial, loan option for senior homeowners. For some, they may be a good fit, but all applicants should get qualified financial advice before they apply.

Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs.


 
What Medicare Doesn’t Cover PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 22 January 2015 15:37

By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

While Medicare covers a wide array of health care services, it certainly doesn’t cover everything. If you need or want certain services that aren’t covered, you’ll have to pay for them yourself unless you have other insurance or you’re in a Medicare Advantage health plan, which may cover some of these services.

Here’s a rundown of what original Medicare generally does not cover.

Alternative medicine: This includes acupuncture or chiropractic services (except to fix subluxation of the spine), and other types of alternative or complementary care.

Cosmetic surgery: Elective cosmetic procedures are not covered, however, certain surgeries may be if necessary to fix a malformation. For example, breast prostheses are covered if you had a mastectomy due to breast cancer.

Long-term care: This includes nursing home care, the costs of assisted living facilities and adult day care. Medicare does, however, help pay up to 100 days of skilled nursing or rehabilitation care immediately following a three-day inpatient hospital stay.

Personal care: The cost of hiring help for bathing, toileting and dressing are not covered unless you are homebound and are also receiving skilled nursing care. Housekeeping services, such as shopping, meal preparation and cleaning, are not covered either unless you are receiving hospice care.

Routine dental and vision care: Medicare will not cover routine dental checkups, cleanings, fillings or dentures. Nor do they cover routine vision care like eye exams, eye refractions, contact lenses or eyeglasses – except when following cataract surgery.

Hearing: Routine hearing exams and hearing aids are not covered either, although some hearing implants to treat a severe hearing loss may be covered.

Foot care: Medicare does not cover most routine foot care, like the cutting or removing of corns and calluses, nor does it pay for most orthopedic shoes or other foot supports (orthotics). Medicare will, however, cover foot injuries or diseases like hammertoes, bunion deformities and heel spurs, along with foot exams and treatments if you have diabetes-related nerve damage.

Non-emergency services: Medicare does not pay for copies of X-rays or most non-emergency transportation including ambulette services.

Overseas coverage: In most cases, health care you receive outside of the United States is not covered.

The best way to find out if Medicare covers what you need, visit medicare.gov/coverage and type in your test, item or service, to get a breakdown of what is and isn’t covered.

Also keep in mind that even if Medicare covers a service or item, they don’t usually pay 100 percent of the cost. Unless you have supplemental insurance, you’ll have to pay monthly premiums as well as annual deductibles and copayments. Most preventive services, however, are covered by original Medicare with no copays or deductibles.

For more information on what original Medicare does and doesn’t cover, see the “Medicare and You” 2015 booklet that you should receive in the mail a few months before you turn 65, or you can see it online at medicare.gov/pubs/pdf/10050.pdf.

You can also get help over the phone by calling Medicare at 800-633-4227. If you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you’ll need to contact you plan administrator for details.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.


 
Does California Recognize Right-to-Die? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 22 January 2015 15:35

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Q: I recently read about a young lady from California, who had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and had to relocate to Oregon to arrange her own death with dignity. Why did she have to move? I thought each of us had the right to control our own end-of-life decisions?

A: I believe you refer to Brittany Maynard, who was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer which began to rob her of cognitive function and subjected her to progressively painful seizures. Her doctors had given her six months to live.

In coming to terms with her decision to die with dignity before the pain became too great to bear, she made a YouTube video and uploaded it to the internet. It quickly went viral, renewing the debate over right-to-die laws.

The reason she had to relocate was to take advantage of Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act,” which allowed her to obtain physician-prescribed drugs to peacefully end her life at the time and in the manner of her choosing. By contrast, in California physicians are prohibited from prescribing death inducing medications, as doing so is viewed as assisting suicide, which is a crime in this state.

So, in California there are limits on our right to control our end-of-life, and I understand your confusion.

True, as counselors we do encourage clients to complete an Advanced Health Care Directive and/or a Physician’s Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), both of which express the client’s wishes regarding end-of-life care.

But California draws a distinction between our right to accept or reject life sustaining medical treatment, on the one hand, and our right to self-administer physician-prescribed lethal drugs, on the other. We have the right to the former, but not to the latter.

So the question really becomes what is considered to be “medical treatment.” Under California law, this includes medical procedures and medications, but also includes artificial nutrition and hydration (food and water) as well as palliative, hospice and comfort care including medication for pain.

Thus, for example, we can direct the removal of a feeding tube, and instead opt for pain medication and hospice care and thereby allow “nature to take its course,” even if doing so hastens the moment of death.  But we cannot go so far as to ask our doctor to prescribe death inducing drugs.

For most of us, knowing that in California we retain the right to control our end-of-life care by directing the extent to which we want life-sustaining medical treatment (including nutrition, hydration and comfort care), is reason enough for each of us to sign an Advance Healthcare Directive. Yet, we fall short of the law in states like Oregon, which extends this right further by allowing terminally ill, but mentally competent, patients to actively end their life with physician prescribed drugs.

But even in Oregon, the patient — and not the doctor — must self-administer the lethal dose of medication.

Ironically, a Gallup Poll has found that about 70 percent of Americans support allowing physicians to help terminally ill patients end their lives by some “painless means.” A Field Poll in California found similar approval. Yet, attempts to pass legislation in California to offer this option to dying patients has thus far been defeated by outcries from vocal interest groups.

So, for those exceptional patients like Brittany Maynard, states like Oregon may be a refuge of last resort.

Gene L. Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward. Visit his website at www.LawyerForSeniors.com.


 
Don’t Let a Fall Trip You Up PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 08 January 2015 16:30

010815senFalls can become more common and more serious as people age. The good news is that there are steps you can take to help prevent them. Here are some tips.

•Identify the health factors that can increase your risk for falling — poor eyesight, reduced reaction time, a decline in muscle strength and limited movement can all contribute to putting a person at risk for falling, particularly if they are ignored.

• Don’t be afraid to use a cane or walker if you are feeling unsteady — and promptly replace worn rubber tips of these devices.

• Be careful around pets. They can get underfoot or jump on you.

• Don’t leave clothes or newspapers on the floor.

A Safety Checklist

Falls are often due to hazards that are easy to overlook, but many times, they are just as easy to fix. Interim HealthCare has developed a checklist that can be used to help you find and fix home hazards.

Go through the list and check off each item that describes your home situation. Each item that gets checked represents a step you have taken to reduce a potential hazard:

Bathroom Safety:

• There are grab bars on the bathroom walls, near the toilet or along the bathtub or shower.

• A slip-resistant rug is next to the bathtub or shower.

• A mounted or suction liquid-soap dispenser is on the bathtub/shower wall.

• Nonskid adhesive-textured strips are on the bathtub/shower floor.

• A sturdy plastic seat (shower chair) is placed in the bathtub.

• There is a raised toilet seat or a toilet seat with armrests to maintain balance when getting on or off the toilet.

• An extra-long mirror over the sink to be used when sitting.

Bedroom Safety:

• Clutter is cleared from the floor so that nothing is in the way.

• A lamp, flashlight and telephone are within easy reach near the bed.

• Night-lights are placed along the path from the bedroom to the bath.

• A raised mattress is available to get in and out of bed more easily.

Download More:

To download your own copy of the Home Fall Prevention Checklist, visit www.interimhealthcare.com/ and click on “Education.”


 
New Law Will Enhance Life of Disabled PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 08 January 2015 16:27

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Q: I hear that President Obama just signed a new law that will make life easier for persons with a disability. Do you know anything about this? We would like to set up something for our grandchild, who has a disability and is on SSI.

A: Yes. It is called “Achieving a Better Life Experience Act,” or the “ABLE Act” of 2014. It was passed by Congress by an overwhelming majority and signed into law by the president on Dec. 19, 2014.

The ABLE Act allows eligible persons with disabilities to open tax-free savings accounts which are structured much like 529 Education Savings Plans. The savings in the account, up to certain maximums, will not disqualify the beneficiary with a disability from the receipt of government benefits, such as Medi-Cal and SSI.

The Act’s purpose is to create a supplemental source of income to help individuals with a disability meet supplemental needs beyond those very basic needs provided by government programs.

For perhaps the first time, the ABLE Act recognizes the extra costs incurred by persons living with a disability.

Under existing law, to be eligible for public benefits an eligible individual generally must meet certain resource limitations, such as having no more than $2,000 in savings. This resource limitation has long left very little assets available for those essential needs not fully covered by governmental programs, and even less to cover emergencies.

When the law is fully implemented, an ABLE Account may be established by the eligible individual or his family. There are some limitations:

(1) it can only be established for a beneficiary whose disability began before turning age 26;

(2) the annual contributions are limited to $14,000 per year;

(3) the total contributions to the account may not exceed $100,000 in order to maintain eligibility for SSI, nor more than $371,000 (in California) to maintain  eligibility for Medi-Cal; and

(4) amounts remaining in the account at the death of the beneficiary are reimbursed to Medi-Cal to the extent of Medi-Cal benefits received by the beneficiary after creation of the account.

While the annual contributions are not tax-exempt, the interest income generated by the savings will be tax-exempt so long as distributions from the account are used only for qualifying expenses as defined by the legislation.

Until now, the family of a beneficiary with a disability had limited options to provide for their loved one’s financial security.

Now, the beneficiary with a disability and his family have a new estate planning tool to enable planning for the future: an ABLE Act Savings Account.

Note: the federal statute will not be fully effective until implementing regulations are adopted, and not until the beneficiary’s home state adopts state legislation in conformity with the ABLE Act.

Advocates for persons with a disability expect that these requirements will be in place for California citizens sometime during the year 2015. Until then, eligible persons and their families should watch state developments closely, so that they can act as soon as the legislation is fully operational.

Gene L.  Osofsky is an estate planning and elder law attorney in Hayward. Visit his website at www.LawyerForSeniors.com.


 
Consider Tax-Savvy Year-End Gifts to Family PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 December 2014 14:03

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Q: My wife and I are considering making large gifts to our children and grandchildren. Do you have any tax advice for us?

A: Yes. Many people mistakenly believe that you cannot gift more than $14,000 per year without incurring a gift tax. Not so. In fact, individuals can gift more than $5 million during a lifetime without incurring a gift tax. Here is the way gift taxes work:

Annual Exclusion Gifts: No Gift Tax Return Required:

1) $14,000 Per Year: Each of you can gift up to $14,000 per year per recipient without the need to file a Gift Tax Return. Such gifts are called Annual Exclusion Gifts and you can make such gifts to as many persons as you wish each year.

2) “Doubling Up”:  If you and your wife are in a position to do so, together, you can actually double that amount for each gift recipient. So, together, you could gift a total of $28,000 to each recipient for a total of $168,000 to your loved ones ($14,000 x 2 donors x 6 recipients).

3) Year End Straddle: On or after January 1, 2015, you and your wife could do the same thing once again, as you would then be in a different tax year. So, over the course of a period as short as a calendar week — provided that the week straddles both the last days of this year and the early days of next year — the two of you could gift a total of $336,000 ($168,000 x 2 donors) to your loved ones without the need to file a Gift Tax Return or use any of your lifetime exemptions. I call this strategy the Year-End Gift Straddle.

Gifts Above the Annual Exclusion: Gift Tax Return Required

1) Lifetime Exemption: If you choose to make gifts above the Annual Exclusion amount, then you can still make them gift-tax-free by using a portion of your Lifetime Exemption (also called the “Unified Credit” or Lifetime Exclusion).

That Lifetime Exemption is currently $5,340,000 per person for U.S. citizens, and increases to $5,430,000 next year. Annual Exclusion Gifts do not count against this exemption; they can be made in addition to Lifetime Exemption gifts.

Also, by making a timely election, a surviving spouse can opt to preserve the deceased spouse’s unused exemption for the survivor’s own use, thereby effectively doubling it.

2) Gift Tax Return: To the extent that your gifts exceed the Annual Exclusion amounts, you must file a Gift Tax Return even though no actual gift tax would be due. Reason: the IRS wants to track your use of your lifetime exemption, so that it knows how much you have left to use upon death.

Example: if you used $1 million of your lifetime exemption to make excess gifts during life, then your remaining exemption to apply against estate taxes upon death would be $1 million less.

Cautions: Before making large gifts, be sure that you can afford to do so. Lastly, if there is a possibility that either of you may need to apply for a Medi-Cal subsidy for nursing home care in the near future, you should consult a professional with special knowledge about the Medi-Cal program before making those gifts: Gift transfers may adversely affect your ability to qualify for a Medi-Cal subsidy unless those gifts are handled in a very special manner.

Gene L. Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward.  Visit his website at www.LawyerForSeniors.com.


 
Shared Housing Can Help Seniors in Many Ways PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 December 2014 14:01

By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

Shared housing among older adults has gotten a lot of attention lately as more and more people are recognizing that they can use their home to get help with a variety of needs, such as generating income, getting help with household chores, and even finding some much needed companionship.

But home sharing isn’t for everyone. You need to carefully consider the pros and cons of renting out a room in your house, and make a list of what you want (and don’t want) in a housemate/renter.

To help sort this out, the National Shared Housing Resource Center offers a 16-page “Consumers Guide to Home Sharing” that provides a self-questionnaire to those considering renting their home, along with a list of renter’s questions and important points to discuss, and a sample home-sharing lease agreement that lays out the details in writing. This guide costs $10 and can be ordered at nationalsharedhousing.org.

Finding a Renter

After going through the guide, if you want to proceed in finding a renter, a good first step is to contact a home-sharing program in the area that matches adults who are looking for shared housing with older adults who are looking to rent.

These programs handle background checks and other screenings, and consider lifestyle criteria when making matches. They can also help with the leasing agreement that the renter would sign that covers issues like smoking, pets, chores, overnight guests, use of common rooms, etc.

Most home-sharing programs are free to use or request a small donation. Others, however, may charge the homeowner and potential renter a fee for this service.

There are dozens of home-sharing programs throughout the U.S. You can find a list at: nationalsharedhousing.org.

You can also search for housemates through national resources like Let’s Share Housing (letssharehousing.com), the Golden Girls Network (goldengirlsnetwork.com) and Roommates 4 Boomers (roommates4boomers.com). All of these programs offer national internet-based matching programs and charge membership fees that run anywhere between $30 and $39.

If you find someone on your own that you’re interested in renting to, ask the prospective renter to fill out a “rental application” (see rentalleaseagreement.org to download and print one for free) and run a full tenant background check, and then call their references. Background checks can be ordered online through companies like starpointtenantscreening.com and screeningworks.com for a small fee.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.



 

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