Welcome to Jan Neal Law Firm LLC, located at 207 N. 4th Street, Opelika, Alabama 36801 where you can find the latest news concerning Elder and Special Needs Law in Alabama. Contact Jan at 334-745-2779 or toll free 1-800-270-7635 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Making a long-term care placement is often surprisingly complicated for those who have not previously made a placement. Finding an affordable facility to meet the needs of the person in need of care can be a challenge. Planning is critical to know what to look for and to understand cost of care and payment options for various levels of long-term care.
This e-book will provide information for those persons who will be eventually making a placement, and provide specific information for care in Alabama. It will remain available in Publications at this web site.
At the top of this page you will see a link to our Publications. There you will find an e-book recently published, Guide to Alabama Advance Directives. It can be downloaded and printed or read online. It explains the different ways a person can become an agent for another in Alabama and how to evaluate which document you may need. This e-book will remain available at Publications but is being posted here.
Social Security Administration (SSA) has made available many online services. From applying for Social Security benefits to replacing a card, SSA has online tools to help, and if you can get the information you need online you can avoid calling 1-800 Medicare or going to a SSA office where you may have to wait to get help.
To access most of the online services, you need to create a mySocial Security account. This account allows you to receive personalized estimates of future benefits based on your real earnings, see your latest statement, and review your earnings history. You can also request a replacement Social Security or Medicare card, check the status of an application, get direct deposit, change your address. If you are a representative payee, you can use mySocial Security to complete representative payee accounting reports. The graphic above provided by Social Security gives you an overview of all the online services available.
A recent case involving basketball star Caldwell Jones demonstrates the danger in having only one spouse’s name on a reverse mortgage. A federal appeals court has ruled that an insurance company may foreclose on a reverse mortgage after the death of the borrower, Mr. Jones, even though Mr. Jones’ widow is still living in the house. While there are protections in place for non-borrowing spouses, many spouses are still facing foreclosure and eviction.
A reverse mortgage allows homeowners to use the equity in their home to take out a loan, but borrowers must be 62 years or older to qualify for this type of mortgage. If one spouse is under age 62, the younger spouse has to be left off the loan in order for the couple to qualify for a reverse mortgage. Some lenders have actually encouraged couples to put only the older spouse on the mortgage because the couple could borrow more money that way. But couples often did this without realizing the potentially catastrophic implications. If only one spouse’s name was on the mortgage and that spouse died, the surviving spouse would be required to either repay the loan in full or face eviction.
In order to protect non-borrowing spouses, the federal government revised its guidelines for reverse mortgages taken out after August 4, 2014 to allow spouses to stay in the house as long as they meet certain criteria, including proving ownership within 90 days of the borrowers death. In 2015, the federal government allowed lenders to defer foreclosure on a widow or widower and assign the mortgage to the federal government. Advocacy groups looking at reverse mortgage foreclosures have found that despite these new regulations, lenders are still foreclosing on non-borrowing spouses. Of the 591 non-borrowing spouses who have sought help to avoid foreclosure, only 317 received assistance.
These regulations did not help Mr. Jones’ wife, Vanessa. Mr. Jones obtained a reverse mortgage in 2014 on the Georgia home he lived in with his wife. The contract defined the “borrower” to be “Caldwell Jones, Jr., a married man.” Ms. Jones did not put his wife’s name on the reverse mortgage because she was under age 62 at the time of the mortgage. Mr. Jones died later that year, and when Ms. Jones did not repay the loan, the insurer began foreclosure proceedings.
Ms. Jones sued the insurer in federal court to prevent the foreclosure, arguing that federal law prohibited the insurer from foreclosing on the house while she lived in it. Under a provision in federal law, the federal government “may not insure” a reverse mortgage unless the “homeowner” does not have to repay the loan until the homeowner either dies or sells the mortgaged property and defines “homeowner” to include the borrower’s spouse.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (Estate of Caldwell Jones, Jr. v. Live Well Financial (U.S. Ct. App., 11th Cir., No. 17-14677, Sept. 5, 2018)) ruled that the federal law in question only covers what the federal government can insure and does not govern the insurer’s right to foreclose. The court agrees with Ms. Jones that the law is intended to safeguard widows and implies that the federal government should not have insured the loan in the first place, but finds that federal law does not cover the insurer’s private right to demand immediate payment and pursue foreclosure.
When purchasing a reverse mortgage, it is always safer to put both spouse’s names on the mortgage. If one spouse is underage when the mortgage is originally taken out, that spouse can be added to the mortgage when he or she reaches age 62.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has finalized rules that were originally proposed in 2015 that will make it more difficult to qualify for VA pension benefits known as Aid and Attendance and Housebound Benefits. These new rules will change how much an applicant can own and how much an applicant can give away and qualify for benefits by establishing an asset limit, a look-back period, and asset transfer penalties for claimants applying for VA pension benefits that require a showing of financial need.
The VA offers Aid and Attendance as cash payments to low-income veterans (or their spouses) who are in nursing homes or who need help at home with everyday tasks like dressing or bathing.
Currently, to be eligible for Aid and Attendance, a veteran (or the veteran’s surviving spouse) must meet certain income and asset limits. The asset limits aren’t specified, but $80,000 is the amount an applicant is usually allowed to keep. However, unlike with the Medicaid program, there historically have been no penalties if an applicant gives away assets at any time before applying. That is, before now you could transfer assets over $80,000 before applying for benefits, and the transfers would not affect eligibility.
Not so anymore. The new regulations will resemble, to some extent, the existing Medicaid regulations in that the new VA rules set a net worth limit of $123,600, and applicants will be penalized for giving away property within three years of application. This net worth limit of $123,600 will include both the applicant’s countable (non-excluded) assets and his or her income, and net worth will be indexed to inflation in the same way that Social Security increases.
The net worth limit is calculated after first deducting property that will be excluded. Excluded property includes an applicant’s house (up to a two-acre lot and additional acreage if it is not marketable), and it will not count as an asset even if the applicant is currently living in a nursing home. Other exclusions from net worth include payment for medical care from their income, including the payments to assisted living facilities.
The regulations also establish a three-year look-back provision. Applicants will have to disclose all financial transactions they were involved in for three years before the application (similar to the Medicaid five year look-back). Applicants who transferred assets to put themselves below the net worth limit within three years of applying for benefits will be subject to a penalty period that can last as long as five years. This penalty is a period of time during which the person who transferred assets will not be eligible for VA benefits. There are exceptions to the penalty period for fraudulent transfers and for transfers to a trust for a child who is unable to provide “self-support.”
Under the new rules, the VA will determine a penalty period in months by dividing the amount transferred that would have put the applicant over the net worth limit by the maximum annual pension rate (MAPR) for a veteran with one dependent in need of aid and attendance. In 2018 that amount is $2169.67.
For example, assume the net worth limit is $123,600 and an applicant has a net worth of $115,000. The applicant transferred $30,000 to a friend during the look-back period. If the applicant had not transferred the $30,000, his net worth would have been $145,000, which exceeds the net worth limit by $21,400. The penalty period will be calculated based on $21,400, the amount the applicant transferred that put his assets over the net worth limit (145,000-123,600). The transfer subject to penalty would be divided by the 2018 MAPR of $2169.67, resulting in a 9.86 month penalty ($21,400 divided by $2169.67 = 9.86). The penalty begins to run on the first day of the month following the month of transfer.
The new rules go into effect on October 18, 2018. The VA will disregard asset transfers made before that date.
The new regulations may be read at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/09/18/2018-19895/net-worth-asset-transfers-and-income-exclusions-for-needs-based-benefits
Medicare is extending its offer of relief from penalties for certain Medicare beneficiaries who enrolled in Medicare Part A and had coverage through the individual marketplace. Beneficiaries who qualify will be able to enroll in Medicare Part B without paying a penalty for late enrollment if they enroll by September 30, 2018.
Individuals who do not enroll in Medicare Part B when they first become eligible face a stiff penalty, unless they are still working and their employer’s plan is considered “primary.” For each year that these individuals put off enrolling, their monthly premium increases by 10 percent — permanently. Some people with marketplace plans – that is, plans purchased by individuals or families, not through employers — did not enroll in Medicare Part B when they were first eligible. Purchasing a marketplace plan with financial assistance from the Affordable Care Act can be cheaper than enrolling in Medicare Part B. However, Medicare recipients are not eligible for marketplace financial assistance plans. And because marketplace plans are not considered equivalent coverage to Medicare Part B, signing up late for Part B will result in a late enrollment penalty.
To address this problem, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is allowing individuals who enrolled in Medicare Part A and had coverage through a marketplace plan to enroll in Medicare Part B without a penalty. It is also allowing individuals who dropped marketplace coverage and are paying a late enrollment penalty for Medicare Part B to reduce their penalty. CMS is now expanding the offer of possible relief to people who should have signed up for Part B during a special enrollment period that ended Oct. 1, 2013, or later but instead used exchange plans. It is also extending the deadline to September 30, 2018 (the earlier deadline was September 30, 2017). To be eligible for the relief, the individual must: Have an initial Medicare enrollment period that began April 1, 2013 or later; or have been notified on October 1, 2013, or later that they were retroactively eligible for premium-free Medicare Part A; or have a Part B Special Enrollment Period that ended October 1, 2013, or later. This offer is available for only a short time. To be eligible for the relief, individuals must request it by September 30, 2018.
Gather any documentation you have to prove that you are enrolled in a marketplace plan. Individuals who are eligible should contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or visit their local Social Security office and request to take advantage of the “equitable relief.”
Florida and Arizona are the latest states to request a waiver from the requirement that states provide three months of retroactive Medicaid coverage to eligible Medicaid recipients. Whether Alabama plans to follow suite is unknown to the public at this time, but this is a time when shrinking budgets prepare us to anticipate the worse.
Medicaid law allows a Medicaid applicant to be eligible for benefits for up to three months before the month of the application if the applicant met eligibility requirements at the earlier time. This helps people who are unexpectedly admitted to a nursing home and can’t file — or are unaware that they should file — a Medicaid application right away. Preparing an application for Medicaid nursing home coverage may take many weeks; the retroactive coverage gives families a window of opportunity to apply and get coverage dating back to when their loved one first entered the nursing home. “Retroactive coverage is one of the long-standing safeguards built into the program for low-income Medicaid beneficiaries and their healthcare providers,” says the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Now Arizona and Florida are joining a growing list of states that are asking the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to eliminate the retroactive benefits. CMS has already approved similar requests by Iowa, Kentucky, Indiana, and New Hampshire to waive retroactive coverage. A lawsuit is challenging Kentucky’s waiver, which also imposes work requirements for Medicaid recipients.
Advocates argue that if Medicaid applicants cannot get coverage before the month of application, they may be saddled with uncovered medical bills or fail to receive needed health care because they cannot afford it. According to Justice in Aging, which filed a brief in the Kentucky lawsuit, Medicaid applicants often do not file an application right away because of the complexity of the Medicaid application process or a false belief that Medicare would cover nursing home care.
For more information about the implications of the elimination of retroactive benefits, click here for a Kyser Family Foundation issue paper.
There is one final note of caution when electing to request the retroactive benefits on the Medicaid application. It is important to use care if gifts were made in the prior five years. An applicant may get outside the five year look-back, click the box requesting three months of retroactive benefits and find himself back inside the five year lookback triggering a penalty.