Posts Tagged ‘baby boomer’

A Unique Opportunity

December 23, 2010

The new tax law (2010 Tax Relief Act) creates an once-in-a-lifetime planning opportunity that ends at midnight, December 31, 2010.

 

Generally, transfers (greater than $13,000 per year) to generations younger than children are subject to what is known as the generation-skipping transfer tax (GSTT), an onerous tax equal to the maximum gift or estate tax rate.  The purpose of this tax, enacted in the late 1980s, is to prevent wealthy individuals from transferring assets to younger generations for the purpose of avoiding application of the estate tax at every generation.

 

The 2010 Tax Relief Act creates a unique opportunity to make gifts through December 31, 2010 that are not subject to the generation-skipping transfer tax.  This is because, under the new law, the tax rate is zero for any generation skipping transfer made in 2010. Beginning January 1, 2011, the tax rate for these transfers with be 35%.  In two short years the rate goes back to 55%.

 

There are three common scenarios offering planning opportunities.  First, make gifts before December 31, 2010 to Skip Trusts.  These are trusts that you create for grandchildren, great grandchildren or more remote generations.  There will be no generation skipping transfer tax.  The gift tax is 35%, after use of the $1 million lifetime gift exclusion.  This strategy is most effective for large taxable estates.  On the gift tax return, you will want to elect out of automatic Generation Skipping Transfer (GST) allocation rules.  For 2010, you will allocate nothing to the GST Exemption because there is no estate tax.  Use a Trust Protector with the power to add beneficiaries (e.g. children/spouse).

 

The second planning scenario deals with the unique planning opportunities for those who are beneficiaries of trusts that will be subject to GSTT upon distribution from the trust.  Distributions should be made from these trusts before December 31, 2010 because the tax rate is 0%.  After this year, the distribution will be subject to at least a 35% tax rate.  Sometimes, there is concern about beneficiaries getting outright distributions.  Some of these concerns may be alleviated if the trustee invests trust assets in limited partnerships or limited liability companies (LLCs) and then distributes the partnership interests or LLC membership interests.

 

The third planning opportunity deals with clearing any loans made to trusts.  The most common scenario involves Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts.  Until the passage of the 2010 Tax Relief Act, there was no way to allocate the GSTT exemption, so loans were used.  With the new act, you can now allocate the GSTT exemption on a timely-filed gift tax return.  If you unwind the loans now, you can save the 2010 annual exclusion that would otherwise be lost.

 

I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this rare gift from Congress and consider making transfers to generations younger than children, even if you do not yet have grandchildren.  We can help you structure these gifts so that they meet your goals and objectives, regardless of amount.

Eldercare Locator – A Free, Public Service For Connecting Older Adults and Caregivers with Community Resources

October 27, 2010

The Eldercare Locator is a service of the U.S. Administration on Aging.  It’s been around for nearly 20 years.  Its toll free number is 800-677-1116.  Its website is http://www.eldercare.gov.  It  provides information about long-term care alternatives, transportation options, caregiver issues and government benefit eligibility.  This information is also available in Spanish and other languages.  There is an extensive database of links, publications, and other resources.

Medicare Coverage of Skilled Nursing Care – The Right Standard

October 18, 2010

I have heard, all to frequently, about people losing Medicare coverage for skilled nursing care because it had been determined that they had reached a “healing plateau.”    That is, they were not improving from the skilled nursing care they were receiving (and would not improve from additional skilled care) and, therefore, were deemed to be only receiving “custodial care”, not the skilled nursing services required for Medicare benefits.

While that may have been the standard in the past, it is not the standard today, but it still comes up.  As it did recently, when a federal judge ruled against the Social Security Administration and rejected  “Improvement” as a criterion for continuing Medicare skilled nursing facility (SNF) coverage.  Here is a summary of the case.

A federal district ruled that an administrative law judge (ALJ) with the U. S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) improperly denied Medicare benefits to a patient in a skilled nursing facility. The ALJ had concluded that “[i]t became apparent that no matter how much more therapy the Beneficiary received, she was not going to achieve a higher level of function.”

After undergoing hip replacement surgery on April 28, 2008, Mary Beth Papciak, 81, developed a urinary tract infection and was readmitted to the hospital. On June 3, 2008, Ms. Papciak was discharged by Dr. Tuchinda to ManorCare to receive skilled nursing care, physical therapy and occupational therapy. Upon Ms. Papciak’s admission to ManorCare, Ms. Papciak was unable to ambulate and could not use her walker due to numbness of her hands due to what was later diagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome. Ms. Papciak also had a history of cellulitis, anemia, cholecystectomy, chronic atrial fibrillation, hypertension, anxiety and depression.

Ms. Papciak received therapy five days a week; however, she made slow progress during her stay. Her therapy included physical and occupational therapy, treatment, self care, therapeutic exercises and therapeutic activities. Her initial treatment was primarily for ambulation. Medicare paid for the skilled care Ms. Papciak received from June 3 through July 9, 2008. It was determined, however, that effective July 10, 2008, Ms. Papciak no longer needed skilled care because Ms. Papciak had made only minimal progress in some areas, had regressed in other areas, and had been determined to have met her maximum potential for her physical and occupational therapy. As a result, Medicare denied payment from July 10 through July 19 because Ms. Papciak was only receiving “custodial care,” not the skilled nursing services required for Medicare coverage.

Ms. Papciak appealed the decision denying coverage, and her appeal worked its way up the chain to an administrative law judge, which upheld the denial, which was then upheld by CMS’s Medicare Appeal Counsel (MAC). After exhausting her administrative remedies, Ms. Papciak sought relief in federal district court.

The federal district court sided with Ms. Papciak. The proper legal standard to be applied to a patient entitled to Medicare benefits in a skilled nursing facility is whether the patient needs skilled services to enable her to maintain her level of functioning.

In the CMS Medicare Skilled Nursing Facility Manual which sets forth the standard to be applied, the reviewing authorities must give consideration to a patient’s need for skilled nursing care in order to maintain her level of functioning. The relevant portion reads: “The services must be provided with the expectation, based on the assessment made by the physician of the patient’s restoration potential, that the condition of the patient will improve materially in a reasonable and generally predictable period of time, or the services must be necessary for the establishment of a safe and effective maintenance program.”

Neither the ALJ nor the MAC addressed Ms. Papciak’s need for skilled nursing care in order to maintain her level of functioning. This was error, held federal Magistrate Judge Cathy Bissoon, requiring that the decision to deny her benefits be overturned.

The ALJ had concluded that “[i]t became apparent that no matter how much more therapy the Beneficiary received, she was not going to achieve a higher level of function.” Similarly, the MAC stated that “[d]espite the appellant’s arguments to the contrary, the enrollee made little or no progress in therapy from the time of her admission to ManorCare through her discharge from skilled care on or around July 10, 2008.”

This is a common misunderstanding about Medicare’s skilled nursing facility benefit, that the patient must be showing “progress” in order for Medicare to pay for her care. Indeed, federal regulations state that “[t]he restoration potential of a patient is not the deciding factor in determining whether skilled services are needed. Even if full recovery or medical improvement is not possible, a patient may need skilled services to prevent further deterioration or preserve current capabilities.”

What happened to Ms. Papciak? She was hospitalized again, discharged to a different skilled nursing facility, where she received physical and occupational therapy under the Medicare benefit, and was discharged home on August 21, 2008.

Stay in Your Home

July 13, 2010

mortgage cartoonA recent article in the Wall Street Journal says upfront fees on reverse mortgages have fallen substantially in recent months. This is an important development since, in the past, reverse mortgages have faced criticism for charging high upfront costs.

A reverse mortgage allows older homeowners to tap their home’s equity and remain in the house. The amount available to the homeowner depends on a number of variables, including the homeowner’s age and the home’s appraised value. Payments to the borrower can be made in a lump sum or in regular installments, or a home-equity line of credit can be established, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) website. The loan typically doesn’t come due until the homeowner sells the house or dies.

Reverse mortgages are available to homeowners who are 62 years old or older and own their homes outright or have a substantial amount of home equity. The vast majority of reverse mortgages are insured by the Federal Housing Administration, through the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program.

The article states that reduced upfront fees on reverse mortgages are a result of investor demand for securities backed by those mortgages. These securities are backed by Ginnie Mae, based on reverse mortgages insured by the FHA. That combination results in a very secure investment and investors are willing to pay a premium for that kind of safety with an attractive yield. Lenders are essentially passing on some of that premium to borrowers in the form of lower fees.
Prospective borrowers need to get the full details of the offer from the lender, and compare them carefully. One lender might reduce the origination fee. Another might waive the origination fee but raise the interest rate. Another could change the servicing fee. Counseling, which is required to qualify for the FHA HECM program, can help borrowers sort through their options.

With declining home values, people might be less inclined to take out a reverse mortgage these days because the equity in their home has taken a hit, but it’s important to note that those who took out a reverse mortgage when home prices were at a peak won’t face changes to that loan – even if their home value has fallen substantially. The amount owed will never exceed the value of the home, because of the FHA insurance.

A reverse mortgage isn’t right for everyone. It probably makes the most sense for people planning on staying in their homes for more than a few years. On top of the mandatory counseling for an FHA-insured reverse mortgage, it might be a good idea to speak to a HUD-approved HECM reverse-mortgage counselor at hud.gov.

IRA Conversions

March 4, 2010

With Congress in a stalemate, it looks like tax uncertainty will be around for awhile.  There was a good article in the Wealth and Personal Finance section of the New York Times on February 18.  A copy of that article can be found here.

One of the strategies covered in the article, which I have been recommending to my clients, is converting traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs. This results in the recognition of income and the payment of tax. This strategy requires some analysis to make sure it works for you, but later distributions from a Roth IRA are not taxable income and there are no minimum required distributions to worry about in retirement.

The greatest obstacle to this strategy in Wisconsin has been that Wisconsin law differs from federal tax law. Wisconsin law does not permit IRA conversions, which leads to problems like being subject to an excise tax.
The good news is that the Wisconsin legislature has passed a law conforming Wisconsin law to federal law. It is waiting for the governor to sign it. He said that he would. I will let you know as soon as he does.

There are ways to supercharge an IRA conversion. Split your IRA into separate IRAs according to investment type before doing the conversion. That is, create an IRA for your large cap investments, a separate one for  mid-caps, and so on. That gives you a right to a “do-over” depending on the performance of the investments.

For example, a taxpayer has two mutual funds in her IRA. One is a large cap fund and the other is an emerging growth fund. She splits the IRA into two IRAs. One holds the large cap mutual fund and the other holds the emerging growth fund. By converting the $100,000 large cap IRA in 2010, she will recognize income of $100,000 and pay tax on that amount (if no other tax planning is done). The same is true of the $50,000 emerging growth IRA. The taxpayer, however, has the right to re-characterize her IRAs by the due date of her tax return including extensions (October 15, 2011).  She can change back to a traditional IRA and recognize no income. So if the large cap fund declines in value to $60,000, she can re-characterize and not recognize $100,000 of income.  Then she can start all over again and convert her IRA in 2011, but at the lower value of $60,000. None of this affects her emerging growth IRA which doubled in value during the same period and which she wants to keep in a Roth IRA.

Good move. Who would want to re-characterize and then recognize more income in a later conversion?

Baby Boomer Social Security Dilemma Revisited

February 17, 2010

If an opinion piece in the Sunday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Crossroads section is any indication, there is going to be a lot of discussion of the subject of Social Security in the years to come. Not all will be good advice.

In the article (To collect or not to collect), Carolyn Kott Washburne shares her personal struggle with the decision about whether or not to start collecting Social Security benefits at age 66. The author had a friend do the math and determined she would have to live to age 80 to recoup what she would lose by not starting at age 66.

The decision seems shortsighted to me. By focusing solely on how long she will have to live to break even if she delays collecting until age 70 – at which time her checks will be almost 30 percent more than if she starts collecting at 66 – she omits pertinent factors in making a sound decision.

She does not consider what affect her decision will have on a spouse. Taking it earlier may decrease the amount her spouse can take, depending on his work history. And it appears she doesn’t expect to live to age 80 or beyond even though her life expectancy is 84. In fact, life expectancy statistics indicate that she has a 50 percent chance of surviving past age 84, and 33 percent chance of living beyond 93. Every day people spend a lot of cash on lottery tickets with much higher odds against them.

I am about to leave on vacation so you probably won’t be hearing from me until the end of next week. At that time I intend to pick up where I left off with my thoughts regarding long-term care insurance.

Lessons Lost

January 19, 2010

Our parents (parents of baby boomers and earlier generations) emphasized savings. We were told that credit was a last resort. There were layaway plans in which desired products were set aside by shop keepers until the price was fully paid in installments. There were Christmas Clubs at the local bank or savings & loan so we could sock a little away each month and have the money for Christmas presents in December. Even most cars were purchased largely with cash (until the early 60s when financing became freely available). About the only thing purchased with credit was houses, but you were expected to have at least 20 percent for the down payment. Again, it wasn’t until the 60s, with the acceptance of mortgage insurance, that people started buying houses with as little as five percent down. And, as we all know, by 2005 purchases were being made with zero down.

Prior generations had two frequently expressed rules. First, you should have at least six months of living expenses saved before you used credit or invested in anything. Second, you should pay off your home mortgage before you retire. With the financial meltdown of the last couple of years, many believe we should return to these principles and this view of credit.

Here’s my take. In order to have a financial safety net, access to cash (financial liquidity) is important. Many of us thought having an equity line of credit was enough. Clearly it is not. Financial institutions called them due during the crisis, leaving borrowers with no way to pay them off much less meet other needs. Our parents were right. You need ready cash available for emergencies. Six months worth may be enough but for us baby boomers I think it should be more.

Because I think having cash is so important, I don’t necessarily agree with the second rule. If you want to stay in your home and have cash protection, the best alternative may be getting a long-term, flat rate mortgage while you are working and still can. This requires some figuring out because you will need to be able to pay the mortgage after you retire, and for as long as you want to stay in your current home. Seeing a good financial planner is recommended.

That’s what I did. I got a 30-year mortgage at age 61. I took enough cash out of my home to pay 2+ years of expenses, and put it in safe, short-term investments. I have always slept well and now I am assured I will continue to do so.

Baby Boomers’ next steps

January 15, 2010

“Retirement at sixty-five is ridiculous.  When I was sixty-five I still had pimples.” – George Burns

For those of you who are younger, I promise to move on to other things shortly but I first want to complete my thoughts about the current challenges to baby boomers. We have been called the “Me” generation that lives for “now.” What we see in our law practice bears out the conclusions of studies stating baby boomers are not in good shape financially. The recent (current?) recession has made this even worse.

I mentioned previously that one strategy is to continue working past your normal retirement age. This plan has two weaknesses – the availability of good paying jobs and the need for good health. Addressing them will require flexibility.

On the jobs front, we will need to change. Jobs may not be available where we live (or want to live) so we may have to move to where they are located. Probably more important, though, is a willingness to get new training and try new jobs. I recall that when I was in college (a long time ago – my 40th reunion is this June), a labor economist was fond of emphasizing that big changes were coming. Unlike our parents who may have had only one employer for their entire lives, we were going to face having three to five employers in our lifetimes.  And this was true, but most of us stayed within the same job type or profession. About a decade ago I accompanied my kids to meetings at the high school for vocational counseling. These counselors informed us that the kids would change employers more than five times, and at least half of those employers would be hiring them for jobs that do not even exist now. The meaning of this aside? We need to be aware of the changed economy and get the necessary training to get and keep good paying jobs.

Of course you can only do the job if you are healthy. A report released Wednesday by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention confirms that 68 percent of adults are too heavy and 34 percent are obese. Being overweight strongly correlates to health problems, but health (and weight) is something we can do something about. It’s hard. It involves lifestyle changes; changes in eating and exercise habits.

I know if I am going to practice law as I have planned (forever if possible), I need to be in good health. I belong to the YMCA and have a personal trainer. Call me in a year. I intend to be a fraction of my current self.

Next time I am going to address some of the financial lessons from the last couple of years that can help – not only baby boomers but everyone.

Continued Travails of a Baby Boomer

January 13, 2010

Like many, I get my health insurance through my spouse’s employer. It’s great coverage, but things really change when I turn 65 and am eligible for Medicare. I will no longer get coverage. That is not necessarily the result for all employer plans. You need to check the actual policy to be sure.

In any event, I have to make sure I have alternative insurance in place when I turn 65. I don’t want to be like a client I once had who also lost coverage at 65 and assumed that he was automatically enrolled in Medicare. He continued to work and did not apply for Social Security. About three months after turning 65, he had a major medical problem that cost tens of thousands of dollars. That’s when he found out that he did not have insurance and did not have Medicare. He was on the hook for all of it. Needless to say, it put a dent in his retirement plans.

Medicare has four components: Part A is hospital insurance, Part B is medical insurance (physicians, outpatient services, medical supplies and home health care), Part C is the alternative option of managed care, and Part D is the prescription drug benefit.

People are automatically enrolled in Part A when they apply for Social Security. For people like me who are not going to apply for Social Security until later, there is a separate Medicare application. I intend to get started on that application at least 90 days before I turn 65.

I am also going to get Part B. It’s not hard because everyone who gets Part A is automatically enrolled in Part B. You have to decline enrollment if you don’t want it. I am going to enroll in Part B (regardless of whether or not there is coverage under my wife’s insurance at that time) because there is a 10 percent penalty tacked on to the premiums for each 12 months of delay after age 65. I don’t want that additional cost later.

Besides Medicare, I am going to get long-term care insurance and a medigap policy. A medigap policy is health insurance sold by private insurance companies to fill the gaps in Medicare plan coverage. Medicare does not have any really effective benefits for long-term care, whether in the home, assisted living, or a nursing home. Medicare has gaps in coverage (some great names for them… donut holes). These policies will address those gaps.

We are all waiting anxiously for the outcome of the continuing healthcare debate in this country. It’s likely to go on for quite some time. But these are my conclusions for handling the baby boom problem, especially if you are not retiring at 65.

“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Travails of a Baby Boomer

January 11, 2010

I admit, begrudgingly, that I am a baby boomer and will turn 62 this year. Like many of my generation, I have no intention of retiring. Some are making that decision as a matter of necessity. Others, like me, are continuing to work because they like what they do.

In any case, age 62 (and then 65) requires some real important decisions.

The first decision is whether to start taking Social Security. This decision is laden with fear about the financial soundness of Social Security. You can start at 62. Right out of the box, many will say, “I am going to take Social Security now because Social Security is bankrupt and I want to get as much of my hard-earned money back as I can.” Understandable, but for some this may not make sense. There are other things to consider. If you take Social Security at 62, you get less. How much less? About 20 percent as compared to the amount received if you wait until your full retirement age.

Social Security earning limitsAnd this reduction affects more than just you. If your spouse will receive Social Security based on your account at your death, then your spouse will also get less.

Social Security benefitsIf you continue working like me, there is another consideration. There is an earnings penalty. If you earn more than a certain amount (It changes, but in 2009 it was $14,160), you lose $1 of every $2 above that amount. There is a different penalty in the year you would have been entitled to get full Social Security benefits. Once you reach full retirement age (66 for me), you can earn any amount without penalty. Besides the penalty, Social Security may be taxable to you. It’s complicated but it depends on your income.
I’ve decided to hold off on Social Security until age 69. The amount I will be entitled to will grow by eight percent between now and then. Plus, my income would wipe out my getting Social Security before the year I turn 68 anyway. And, taking it earlier would hurt my wife in terms of the amount she might receive after my death.

Next topic… Medicare.