New Rules Tighten Reverse Mortgages | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 17 April 2014 13:50

041714sen1By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

Tighter rules that have recently gone into affect have made reverse mortgages  harder to get, especially for seniors with heavy debt problems.

The reason the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) made these changes was to strengthen the product, which has suffered from a struggling housing market and a growing number of defaults by borrowers. Here’s a rundown of how reverse mortgages now work in 2014.

Overview: The basics are still the same. A reverse mortgage is a loan that allows senior home-owners to borrow money against the equity in their house. The loan doesn’t have to be repaid until the homeowner dies, sells the house or moves out for at least 12 months.

It’s also important to know that with a reverse mortgage, you, not the bank, own the house, so you’re still responsible for property taxes, insurance and repairs.

Eligibility: To be eligible for a reverse mortgage, you must be at least 62 years old, own your own home (or owe only a small balance) and currently be living there. You will also need to undergo a financial assessment to determine whether you can afford to make all the necessary tax and insurance payments over the projected life of the loan.

Lenders will look at your sources of income, assets and credit history. Depending on your financial situation, you may be required to put part of your loan into an escrow account to pay future bills. If the financial assessment finds that you cannot pay your insurance and taxes and have enough cash left to live on, you will be denied.

Loans: Nearly all reverse mortgages offered today are Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM), which are FHA insured and offered through private mortgage lenders and banks.

HECMs also have home value limits that vary by county, but cannot exceed $625,500. See for a list of HUD-approved lenders.

Loan amounts: The amount you get through a reverse mortgage depends on your age, your home’s value and prevailing interest rates. Generally, the older you are, the more your house is worth. And, the lower the interest rates are, the more you can borrow.

A 70-year-old, for example, with a home worth $300,000 could borrow around $170,000 with a fixed-rate HECM. To calculate how much you can borrow, visit

Loan costs: Reverse mortgages have a number of up-front fees including a 2-percent lender origination fee for the first $200,000 of the home’s value and 1 percent of the remaining value, with a cap of $6,000; a 0.5 percent initial mortgage insurance premium fee; an appraisal fee, closing costs and other miscellaneous expenses. Most fees can be added to the loan amount to reduce your out-of-pocket cost at closing.

In addition, you’ll also have to pay an annual mortgage insurance premium.

Payment options: You can receive the money in a lump sum, a line of credit, regular monthly checks or a combination of these. But, in most cases, you cannot withdraw more than 60 percent of the loan during the first year. If you do, you’ll pay a 2.5-percent upfront insurance premium fee.

Counseling: All borrowers are required to get counseling through a HUD-approved independent counseling agency before taking out a reverse mortgage. Some agencies are awarded grants that enable them to offer counseling for free, but most charge around $125 to $250. To locate a counseling agency near you, visit or call 800-569-4287.


Recent Castro Valley Debacle Spurs State Assembly To Pass Bill | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 17 April 2014 13:48

Last fall, Valley Springs Manor assisted-care facility abandoned more than a dozen elderly

By Amy Sylvestri • San Leandro Times

The State Assembly last week unanimously passed a bill designed to avoid a repeat of the debacle that occurred at the Valley Springs Manor assisted-care facility in Castro Valley last fall.

In that incident, more than a dozen elderly and bedridden patients were abandoned for several days by most of the staff at the Apricot Way facility after it had been ordered shut down by the state.

The bill, by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, would strengthen the investigation and complaint process at California nursing homes and other care facilities, according to Tracie Morales, a Skinner aide.

There are more than 7,500 senior care homes in the state.

“No longer will complaints of abuse and neglect be swept under the rug,” Skinner said in a statement. “ The tragic incident at the Castro Valley care facility was preventable. We now know that stronger measures are needed to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable.”

Skinner’s bill is packaged with several others — all related to care facilities. One would allow unannounced inspections and evaluations of each facility, another would increase fines for violations and penalties for non-compliance, and another would make the licensing process more rigorous.

Morales says that Skinner’s bill will head to the Assembly Appropriations Committee later this month and then move to the State Senate, where it is co-sponsored by State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, who represents Castro Valley.


‘Must We Cash In IRAs to Qualify for Medi-Cal?’ | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 17 April 2014 13:46

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

Q: My wife may soon need nursing care and I will need to apply for a Medi-Cal subsidy to help with the cost. Our incomes are modest and, aside from our home, most of our savings are in the form of our IRAs. A friend thought I would have to cash them out and “spend down” the proceeds before my wife would be eligible. Does that sound right to you?

A: Not at all. I am sure your friend means well, but he or she is misinformed. Funds held inside an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) are not counted in determining whether your nonexempt assets are above the Medi-Cal resource ceilings, provided that certain requirements are met. Here is how Medi-Cal views IRAs:

IRA in Wife’s Name: As the spouse needing nursing care, the IRA in your wife’s name will not be counted in determining whether your assets exceed the Medi-Cal resource ceilings, provided that she is receiving periodic distributions of  “income and principal.”

This requirement is easily satisfied by drawing out the Minimum Required Distributions (MRD) under IRS rules. So long as she takes the MRDs, whether as monthly, quarterly or annual draws, Medi-Cal will treat her entire IRA as “unavailable” and will not count its value when determining her eligibility. Medi-Cal will, however, treat the MRD distributions as income, which may then go toward her “co-pay” (which Medi-Cal calls “Share of Cost”).

IRA in Your Own Name: As the At-Home spouse, the IRA in your own name does not count at all, regardless of whether you are receiving any distributions.  In essence, the Medi-Cal rules encourage you to conserve your retirement nest egg and use it for its intended purpose.

We generally suggest that a person in your wife’s situation take out the bare minimum from her IRA as necessary to comply with both Medi-Cal rules and IRS rules. This strategy keeps her Share of Cost low and still allows her to qualify for a Medi-Cal subsidy to cover the remaining cost of care.

Also know that your IRAs — whether in her name or in your name — can be worth any amount and still be non-countable. There is no upward ceiling on value. In the eyes of Medi-Cal, the only difference between her IRA and yours is that she must be receiving MRDs in order to render hers non-countable. And, by the way, Medi-Cal applies the same rules to other retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, Roth IRAs, and the like.

So, in your case, provided that your other savings and nonexempt assets do not exceed the Medi-Cal resource ceilings (currently, $117,240 for the At-Home spouse and $2,000 for the ill spouse), your wife should qualify for a Medi-Cal nursing home subsidy. The other good news is that IRAs are exempt from recovery, provided that the designated death beneficiaries are individuals, rather than the owner’s estate.

Caution: We find that couples in your situation are sometimes told that they need to convert the money in their IRAs into an annuity in order to render the proceeds exempt for Medi-Cal purposes. That is not the case, and such conversions are almost always both unnecessary and inadvisable.

In short, Medi-Cal’s treatment of IRAs and other retirement accounts is designed to help individuals and couples manage the high cost of nursing care without unduly draining their retirement nest eggs.

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

The Bay Area Senior Games | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 17 April 2014 13:43

041714sen2A competition for men and women ages 50 and over will take place in Castro Valley on Sunday, May 11. Those interested can compete in any or all seven events, including pull-ups, standing long jump, farmers’ walk, dynamometer hand-grip test, dead lift lockout and standing vertical jump.

Entrants will compete in five-year age groups: 50-54, 55-59, 60-64 and so on. Those who enter all seven events have the chance to win the title of all-around champion.

The contest, part of the Bay Area Senior Games, will be held in Dale Harder’s backyard at 18584 Carlwyn Dr. in Castro Valley. Cost for the Senior Games is $49 plus $15 for the Feats of Strength. The deadline to register is April 30.

For more information, visit and click on Feats of Strength, or contact Dale Harder at 727-0485 or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Walk Your Way to Better Health | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 03 April 2014 14:42

040314senBy Jim MillerSpecial to the Times

More than 25 years of research has shown that walking may be the single best exercise you can do to improve your health.

It burns calories (about 100 for every mile you walk) which will help you lose weight, it builds endurance, enhances muscle tone and it doesn’t pound your joints.

It also helps improve or prevent many age-related health problems including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and dementia.

But walking is not only good for what ails you. It’s also one of the easiest and most convenient exercises you can do, and is completely free. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes that fit well and a little desire.

Start walking: Start out slow if you need to. For many people this means head out the door, walk for 10 minutes, and walk back. Do it every day for a week.

If that seems easy, add five minutes to your walks next week and keep adding five minutes until you are walking as long as you desire. It’s also a smart idea to start and finish your walk with a few simple warm-up and cool-down stretches. Stretching will make you feel better and help prevent injury.

How far: Any walking is better than none, but most fitness professionals recommend walking about 30 minutes, five days a week. Research has shown that the 30 minutes can be broken up throughout the day — 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there. Or, for optimal health benefits, aim for 10,000 steps per day, which is the equivalent of about five miles.

How fast: The right walking speed depends on your fitness level. Ideally, you should walk at a brisk pace that has you breathing heavily, but you are still able to carry on a conversation.

l Staying Motivated

While starting a walking program takes initiative, sticking with it takes commitment. Here are some tips to help you stay motivated:

• Find some walking buddies: They can provide motivation and support along with companionship and security.

• Use a pedometer: These nifty little gadgets — available in sporting goods stores for around $25 —  measure how far you’ve walked in steps and miles, providing motivation by spurring you to meet a particular goal and showing you if you’ve met it. Or, if you’re a smartphone user, consider downloading a pedometer app like or

• Join a walking club: To find one in your community, call your local medical center, mall, health clubs, YMCA, running shoe stores or Area Agency on Aging to see if they sponsor or know of any clubs or groups. Or try the American Volkssport Association ( and American Heart Association Walking Club (, which let you search for non-competitive walking clubs in your area, or start one.

• Keep a journal: Use it to keep track of your walking minutes, steps, or mileage and total it up at the end of each week to see how you’re progressing.

• Get a dog: Studies have shown that dog owners are much more likely to take regular walks than non-dog owners.

• Listen to music: An iPod or MP3 player can also make a nice walking companion. Check out to find great walking songs that will match your pace.

• Have a backup plan: If bad weather, allergies or other factors limit your outdoor walking, have a backup plan like walking at your local mall, buying a home treadmill or joining a health club.

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

Can Mother’s Beneficiaries Be Changed After Death? | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 03 April 2014 14:39

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

Q: My mother just died, and her will leaves her estate equally to us three children. I am fairly well-off,  but my two brothers are not quite as fortunate. Is there a way that I can redirect some or all of my share to them in a tax-efficient way?

A: The answer may very well be “yes.” One way to accomplish this is by the use of a disclaimer. A disclaimer is a renunciation of one’s right to receive a gift or bequest, whether the gift is left in a will, trust, or by beneficiary designation.

However, whether it will accomplish your purpose in routing your share to your siblings depends upon how your mother structured her will.

Here’s why: In order for a disclaimer to be effective, it must pass to the next person in line without any direction on your part. In other words, it must pass to the successors whom your mother, herself, has chosen to take in the event you predeceased her. A couple of examples will help illustrate the matter:

(1) Let us suppose your mother’s will recites as follows:

“I leave everything to my three children, equally, but if any of my children predecease me, then I leave that deceased child’s share to my other surviving children, equally.”

(2) Or, let us suppose your mother’s will, instead, recites as follows:

“I leave everything to my three children, equally, but if any of my children predecease me, then I leave that deceased child’s share to his own surviving children.”

In example No. 1, your mother provides that the share of any predeceased child would go sideways to your siblings, while in example No. 2, she provides that it would go downward to your own children.

In example No. 1, a disclaimer by you would accomplish your purpose, but a disclaimer by you in example No. 2 would not.

A disclaimer is treated as if the target beneficiary had predeceased the decedent. So, before exercising a disclaimer, it is very important to first determine whom the decedent, herself, has selected as the successors. If the decedent died without a will, then the successors would be determined by state law.

The nice thing about a disclaimer is that it is treated, for tax purposes, as if you never owned the asset; it passes to the successors without any adverse tax implications to you.

As a result, a disclaimer can be a very tax-efficient way of postmortem planning. By contrast, if you first accept your share and then re-gift it to your siblings, the gift tax scheme would be implicated; you would need to file a Gift Tax Return for amounts over $14,000 per recipient, and the gifts to your siblings would reduce your own lifetime exemption from gift and estate tax (currently $5.34 million per person), making less available for you later on to shield bequests to your own beneficiaries.

To be effective, a disclaimer must meet certain requirements: It must be in writing, it must be made before you accept the gift or any of its benefits, and it must be made not later than nine months after your mother’s death.

Caution: A person receiving public benefits, such as Medi-Cal or SSI, should never make a Disclaimer without getting professional guidance, as doing so would be treated as a prohibited transfer of assets and could jeopardize continued eligibility for public benefits.

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

How Do You Fight Age Discrimination? | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 20 March 2014 12:47

032014senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

Age discrimination has become a much more frequent complaint in recent years as more and more people are working into their retirement years.

But, you need to be aware that proving it is extremely difficult to do, especially since the 2009 Supreme Court decision that raised the bar for the type of legal proof that workers need to win age-discrimination lawsuits.

With that said, here are the steps you’ll need to take to fight age discrimination if you think you’ve been treated unlawfully.

ADEA Protection

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is your first defense against age discrimination. This is a federal law that says an employer cannot fire, refuse to hire, or treat you differently than other employees because of your age. Some examples of age discrimination include:

• You were fired because your boss wanted to keep younger workers who are paid less.

• You were turned down for a promotion, which went to someone younger hired from outside the company, because the boss says the company “needs new blood.”

• When company layoffs are announced, most of the persons laid off were older rather than younger workers with less seniority and less on-the-job experience.

• Before you were fired, your supervisor made age-related remarks about you.

• You didn’t get hired because the employer wanted a younger-looking person to do the job.

The ADEA protects all workers and job applicants age 40 and over who work for employers that have 20 or more employees — including federal, state and local governments as well as employment agencies and labor unions.

If your workplace has fewer than 20 employees, you may still be protected under your state’s anti-age-discrimination law. Contact your state labor department or your state’s fair employment practices agency for more information.

Another protection for older workers is the federal Older Workers Benefit Protection Act. Under this law, an employer cannot reduce health or life insurance benefits for older employees, nor can it stop their pensions from accruing if they work past their normal retirement age.

It also discourages businesses from targeting older workers when cutting staff and prohibits employers from forcing employees to take early retirement.

What to Do

If you think you are a victim of employment age discrimination, your first step is to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), usually within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation.

You can do this by mail or in person at your nearest EEOC office (see, or by calling 800-669-4000. They will help you through the filing process and let you know if you should also file a charge with your state anti-discrimination agency.

Once the charge is filed, the EEOC will investigate your complaint and find either reasonable cause to believe that age discrimination has occurred, or no cause and no basis for a claim. After the investigation, the EEOC will then send you their findings along with a “notice-of-right-to-sue,” which gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law.

If you decide to sue, you’ll need to hire a lawyer who specializes in employee discharge suits. and are two websites that can help you locate discrimination attorneys in your area.

Another option you should consider is mediation, which is a fair and efficient way to help you resolve your employment disputes and reach an agreement.

The EEOC offers mediation at no cost if your current or former employer agrees to participate. At mediation, you show up with your evidence, your employer presents theirs and the mediator makes a determination within a day or less.


‘Mom Is in ICU and I Need Power of Attorney Help!’ | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 20 March 2014 12:45

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

Q: Mom suffered a stroke and is in the hospital in ICU. I do not have signing power on her bank accounts and I need to pay her bills. I am told that I need a Power of Attorney so that I can take care of her finances. Can you help?

A: We frequently receive frantic calls like the above, and it saddens me that I usually have to advise the caller that it may now be too late.

A Power of Attorney is a legal document and can only be signed when the signer, also called the principal, has legal capacity.

If the principal is delirious, in a coma, or otherwise mentally incapacitated, he or she does not have the required capacity to sign a power of attorney or, indeed, any other legal document. This advice often comes as a surprise to the well-intentioned family member who hopes to help a loved one manage his or her affairs.

In cases like this, I find myself wishing that the caller had contacted us sooner, before the crisis, so that we could have prepared the necessary documents to deal with just this problem.

Incapacity, especially if brought on suddenly by an injury, stroke or other acute event, can strike without warning, and is especially problematic for seniors in declining health. Incapacity can also be a gradual process, brought on by declining memory, dementia or other mental problems.

Keep in mind that signing a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) does not necessarily mean that the signer instantly gives up control over his financial affairs. Indeed, the DPOA can be a “springing power,” which means that it only becomes effective when, for example, a physician certifies in writing that the principal no longer has capacity to manage their affairs.

It can also provide that the principal’s power to manage his own affairs is restored if he later regains capacity. Further, a DPOA can be a comprehensive legal document which delegates to a trusted agent authority to do almost everything that the principal could do on his own, or it can be a limited power which authorizes the agent to handle only certain types of transactions, such as the payment of bills from a specific checking account.

It is a common misconception that powers of attorney are all alike. They are not.

A DPOA can be as broad, or as limited, as the need and comfort of the principal requires. By way of example, it can authorize the creation or modification of Living Trusts, the purchase or modification of insurance policies, the making of gifts to loved ones, and/or Medi-Cal planning for long-term care.

The important point, however, is to take steps to create one which meets your needs before a crisis strikes and while you are in full possession of your faculties. In that way, it can serve you and your loved ones well in the event of future need, and likely avoid the need for a court-supervised, and often expensive, conservatorship proceeding.

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

Protect Yourself Against Medicare “Gaps” | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 20 March 2014 12:43

032014sen2By David Sayen • Special to the Forum

Your Original Medicare insurance covers a wide variety of health services, from flu shots to hospital stays to hospice care. But it doesn’t cover everything, and it doesn’t cover all your out-of-pocket costs.

Many services covered by Original Medicare require co-payments, coinsurance, and deductibles. You can purchase extra insurance to cover these “gaps” in Medicare. Such insurance is called Medicare Supplement Insurance, or Medigap.

Some Medigap policies also provide coverage that Original Medicare doesn’t, like emergency care in a foreign country.

You have to pay for Medigap yourself, and it’s sold through private insurance companies. You can buy it only if you have Original Medicare, not Medicare Advantage, which is managed care provided by private insurers.

Every Medigap policy has to follow federal and state laws designed to protect you. Insurance companies can sell you only a “standardized” Medigap policy identified in most states by the letters A through N. Each standardized policy must offer the same basic benefits, no matter which company sells it.

So beware when you’re shopping for a Medigap policy: Cost is usually the only difference between Medigap policies with the same letter sold by different companies.

And there can be big differences in how much various insurers charge for the same coverage.

Here are some of the costs that Medigap policies often cover:

• Medicare Part A (hospital) coinsurance and hospital costs for up to 365 days after Medicare benefits run out;

• Medicare Part B (medical) coinsurance or co-pays;

• Part A hospice care coinsurance or co-pays;

• Skilled nursing facility coinsurance;

• Part A & Part B deductibles.

Medigap policies generally don’t cover long-term care (like care in a nursing home), vision or dental, hearing aids, eyeglasses, and private-duty nursing.

The best time to buy a Medigap policy is during your Medigap open enrollment period. This period lasts for six months and begins on the first day of the month in which you’re 65 or older and enrolled in Medicare Part B.

Why is this important? Because during open enrollment, an insurance company can’t refuse to sell you any Medigap policy it offers due to any health problems you may have. Nor can you be charged more based on your health status.

In some cases, however, an insurer can refuse to cover your out-of-pocket costs for pre-existing health conditions for up to six months. After six months, the Medigap policy will cover the pre-existing condition.

And remember, for Medicare-covered services, Original Medicare will still cover the condition even if the Medigap policy won’t cover your out-of-pocket costs. But you’re responsible for the coinsurance or copayments.

A few other points to keep in mind:

• You must have Medicare Part A and Part B to buy a Medigap policy.

• Plans E, H, I, and J are no longer for sale, but you can keep these plans if you already have one.

• A Medigap policy only covers one person. If you and your spouse both want Medigap coverage, you must each buy a separate policy.

• Any standardized Medigap policy is guaranteed renewable, even if you have health problems. This means the insurance company can’t cancel your policy as long as you pay the premium.

Although some Medigap policies sold in the past cover prescription drugs, Medigap policies sold after January 1, 2006, aren’t allowed to include prescription drug coverage. (If you want such coverage, you can join a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, offered by private companies approved by Medicare.)

David Sayen is Medicare’s regional administrator for Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and the Pacific Territories. You can always get answers to your Medicare questions by calling 1-800-633-4227.

Guard Against Robocall Scams | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 06 March 2014 14:53

030614senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

If you are like most local residents, you’ve probably been getting a lot of so-called robocalls — recorded announcements pitching carpet cleaning, lower credit card interest rates, medical alert devices, home alarm systems and more.

There’s been a huge spike in robocall scams in the U.S. over the past few years. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) gets more then 200,000 complaints every month about this widespread problem.

Here’s what you should know, along with some tips that can help you protect yourself.

Robocall Scams

Whenever you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it’s a robocall.

You’ve probably gotten robocalls about candidates running for office, or charities asking for donations. These robocalls are legal and allowed. But if the recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. In addition to the phone calls being illegal, their pitch most likely is a scam.

Some common robocall scams that are making the rounds these days are offering lower credit card interest rates, mortgage relief, free vacations, medical alert devices or home security systems, or they falsely notify you about changes in your health benefits or bank account.

But be aware that new scams are constantly evolving, and they all have only one goal in mind — to get your personal and financial information.

The reason for the spike in robocalls is technology. Fraudulent robocallers are using autodialers that can send out thousands of phone calls every minute for an incredibly low cost, and are very difficult to trace. When these kinds of calls come in, your caller ID usually displays “spoofed” (fake) numbers, or just says “unknown.”

Protect Yourself

Your first step to limiting at least some unwanted calls is to make sure your phone number is registered with the National Do Not Call Registry (see or call 888-382-1222). This, however, will not stop telemarketing scams or illegal robocalls.

Another tip, if you have a caller ID, is to simply not answer the phone unless you recognize the number. But if you do answer and it’s a robocall, you should just hang up the phone. Don’t press 1 to speak to a live operator and don’t press any other number to complain about the call or get your number off the list.

If you respond by pressing any number, you’re signaling that the autodialer has reached a live number and will probably lead to more robocalls.

You should also consider contacting your phone provider to ask them to block the number, and whether they charge for that service. But keep in mind that telemarketers change caller ID information easily and often, so it might not be worth paying a fee to block a number that will change.

Another call-blocking option you should check into is Nomorobo. This is a free new service and works only for people who have an internet-based VoIP phone service. Anyone with phone service from Comcast and Time Warner Cable can use it too.

Nomorobo uses a “simultaneous ring” service that detects and blocks robocalls on a black list of known offender numbers. It isn’t 100 percent foolproof, but it is an extra layer of protection. To sign up, or see if Nomorobo works with your phone service provider, visit

It’s also important that you report illegal robocalls you receive to the FTC at or call 888-382-1222.

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

Adults Under 65 Can Get Medi-Cal Without Asset or Disability Test | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 06 March 2014 14:50

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

Q: My wife and I are both age 60, in good health and have very modest incomes. We are not yet eligible for MediCare. In the past, we were told that we were not eligible for Medi-Cal because we have some savings and because we are not disabled. Has any of this changed under the new health care law?

A: Yes, indeed. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, Medi-Cal coverage will now be available to individuals aged 19 to 64 based upon their incomes alone, and without regard to the value of their assets or whether they are disabled.

The goal is to expand health care coverage for an estimated one million Californians who could not previously qualify because of the traditional asset or disability test. This provision of the ACA is called “Medi-Cal Expansion.”

This expansion coverage — available only for those under age 65 and not on MediCare — represents a significant break with traditional Medi-Cal. To qualify for Medi-Cal, all applicants formerly had to show that they were disabled or over age 65 and that they had less than $2,000 in the bank.

To qualify for coverage, annual household income must be less than 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, which calculates as follows for 2014: One person: $15,856; Two Persons: $21,404; Three Persons: $26,951; Four persons: $32,499.

Persons whose household modified adjusted gross incomes are less than these ceilings will now be eligible for Medi-Cal regardless of the value of their assets and regardless of disability.

Further, they will not be obliged to purchase private health care insurance, will have no premium cost for healthcare coverage, and will incur no share of cost (“co-pay”) for health care services.

This Expansion Medi-Cal coverage will potentially benefit all persons under age 65 with modest incomes. However, the coverage groups that will likely most benefit will be the following:

(a) Long-term Unemployed: persons in this group no longer have employment-based health coverage and typically have very modest incomes, even though they may have significant savings from prior employment;

(b) Persons Caught in the Two-year Medicare Wait Period: persons under age 65 who become disabled and qualify for Social Security Disability find that there is a two-year wait before they qualify for Medicare. These individuals may now qualify for Medi-Cal during this coverage gap.

(c) Disabled Persons with Some Assets: formerly, disabled persons who needed Medi-Cal coverage could not accumulate savings of more than $2,000.

In order to preserve eligibility, excess resources would have to be spent down or transferred into a Special Needs Trust to be managed by others. Under the new rules, disabled persons under age 65 will now be able to accumulate savings and, if able to do so, manage their own resources without disqualifying themselves from Medi-Cal healthcare coverage.

In short, for those uninsured persons under age 65 and not on MediCare, the Expansion Medi-Cal program offers a real opportunity to secure healthcare coverage. To apply, go to or call 1-800-300-1506.

Note: When these individuals later turn 65, should they then desire to retain Medi-Cal coverage (e.g., to help with MediCare co-pays, In Home Supportive Services, or nursing home costs), they will need to re-qualify under the more traditional asset-based rules. If they then need to reduce their countable assets to maintain eligibility, they should seek professional guidance to avoid running afoul of the Medi-Cal asset transfer rules.

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

Do You Need to File a Tax Return? | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 20 February 2014 15:19

022014senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

Whether or not seniors are required to file a federal income tax return this year depends on their gross income, as well as their filing status and age.

The “gross” income includes all the income you receive that is not exempt from tax, not including Social Security benefits, unless you are married and filing separately.

To get a detailed breakdown on federal filing requirements, and 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

In the meantime, here’s a rundown of the IRS filing requirements for this tax season. If your gross income from 2013 was lower than the amount listed in your filing status, you probably won’t have to file. But if it’s over, you will.

• Single: $10,000 ($11,500 if you’re 65 or older by Jan. 1, 2014).

• Married filing jointly: $20,000 ($21,200 if you or your spouse is 65 or older; or $22,400 if you’re both over 65).

• Married filing separately: $3,900 at any age.

• Head of household: $12,850 ($14,350 if age 65 or older).

• Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $16,100 ($17,300 if age 65 or older).

Special Requirements

Be aware that there are some special financial situations that require you to file a tax return, even if your gross income falls below the IRS filing requirement.

For example, if you had net earnings from self-employment in 2013 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 resource on their website called “Do I Need to File a Tax Return?” 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, 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 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, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re also excused from filing state income taxes. Check with your state tax agency before concluding that you’re entirely in the clear. For links to California’s Franchise Tax Board, visit

Tax Prep Assistance

If you find that you do need to file a tax return this year, you can get help through the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (or TCE) program. Sponsored by the IRS, TEC provides free tax preparation and counseling to middle and low-income taxpayers, age 60 and older. Call 800-906-9887 to locate a service near you.

Also check with AARP, a participant in the TCE program that provides free tax preparation at more than 5,000 sites nationwide. To locate an AARP Tax-Aide site, call 888-227-7669 or visit You don’t have to be an AARP member to use this service.

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




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