Massachusetts Estate Planning & Asset Protection Blog

Massachusetts Seniors Need to Know About Free Medicare Check-Ups

Posted by Wellesley Estate Planning Attorney, Dennis B. Sullivan, Esq., CPA, LLM on Wed, Aug 17, 2011

The official handbook, "Medicare & You 2011," says that "Medicare covers two types of physical exams — one when you're new to Medicare and one each year after that." It describes these as the initial "Welcome to Medicare" physical exam and the yearly "wellness" exam.  Then why are some patients going to the doctors for the physical and leaving with a bill in excess of $400?

Until Jan. 1 this year, Medicare did not cover any routine exams except for the "Welcome to Medicare" exam for new beneficiaries. The Affordable Care Act created the once-a-year wellness visit as a new benefit.

Theese new check ups are not what people think however.  The check up considered by Medicare an "annual wellness visit" can be performed in just a few minutes, without the patient having to undress at all.  Typically, the doctor will measure the patient's height, weight, body mass and blood pressure — and perhaps listens to his heart through his clothes. The rest is a discussion of the patient's medical and family history. 

While doctors and patients are both thrilled Medicare is now paying for preventative check ups.  As was mentioned earlier in this post, patients are leaving their doctor's office thinking what they got was a free visit, paid for by Medicaid, and then receiving bills in excess of $400.  To be sure this doesn't happen to you, be 100% sure when talking to your doctor to tell them you only want the free Medicare check up and mention the billing code G0438.

Prevent Senior Health Issues

Doctors have said it is difficult to work a 45-minute wellness visit into an already overstretched schedule. They've been covering its elements for years in other ways, by working a discussion of preventive measures into a regular visit when examining a patient.  They also say that by avoiding a sedintary life style and making better choices at the dinner table, seniors can avoid many of the more serious and expensive health risks such as heart disease and diabetes.

To take steps to protect your spouse, home and life savings today register online to attend a free educational workshop hosted by Dennis B. Sullivan, Esq, CPA, LLM or by calling 800-964-4295 (24 hours a day).  You can also check out Free Elder Law Guides developed by the team of professional at Dennis Sullivan & Associates.  By planning now you can save you and your family the stress of having to worry about the future.

 

Tags: Medicare, Medicaid, Nursing Home Guide, Nursing Homes, Elder Law, Announcements, assisted living, Health Care, 2011, social security

What the Debt Ceiling Means for Massachusetts Seniors and Massachusetts Medicaid

Posted by Wellesley Estate Planning Attorney, Dennis B. Sullivan, Esq., CPA, LLM on Thu, Aug 11, 2011

Since the signing of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the Act which includes the increase in the national debt ceiling, senior advocates have been working to determine its effect on programs including Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

Brief Background

Congress has voted to raise the debt ceiling 10 times since 2001.  The ceiling was raised in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and twice in 2008.  Why all the debate this time around?  One side was insisting on reducing spending by cutting federal assitance to programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security to decrease the defecit, while the other was insiting on an increase in revenue (read taxes) while maintaining those programs.  Many questions remain on whether funding for senior programs will continue or in what amounts.describe the image

The Act's Impact on the Future

There are still many questions left unasnwered regarding what impact the Budget Control Act will have moving forward.  The Act consists of three steps:

STEP ONE:

The national debt ceiling is going to be raised $400 billion initially.  The President also has the option to institute an additional increase of $500 billion moving forward.  Congress is slated to reduce spending by $917 billion over the next 10 years.  In 2012, $21 billion is to be cut from federal spending.  Many people do not seem overly concerned with the scheduled reduction for 2012 because budget reduction occurs frequently and legislation is often amended.

STEP TWO:

A Joint Select Committee on Defecit Reduction is to be put together of 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans.  The Committee must come up with debt reduction legislation on or before November 23 of this year.  Their goal is to cut $1.5 trillion dollars of debt over the next 10 years, with a required reduction of at least $1.2 trillion.  Any proposal the Committee creates will be voted on by Congress before the end of 2011, and many speculate will include cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security spending.

STEP THREE:

If no plan is put in place to reduce at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years, whether Committe member do not agree or Congress refuses to pass their proposal, there would be sweeping federal spending reduction.  The reducution would equal the full amount, up to $1.2 trillion, that can not be agreed upon by the Reduction Committe and Congress.  Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security as well as veterans's benefits are all protected from large spending reduction if the process reaches this stage. 

What Can You Do Today ?

No on knows how these reduction will effect senior programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.  One thing is clear, the future is alot less certain.  To take steps to protect your spouse, home and life savings today register online to attend a free educational workshop hosted by Dennis B. Sullivan, Esq, CPA, LLM or by calling 800-964-4295 (24 hours a day).  You can also check out Free Elder Law Guides developed by the team of professional at Dennis Sullivan & Associates.  By planning now you can save you and your family the stress of having to worry about the future. 

Tags: Medicare, Medicaid, Retirement, Estate Planning, Health Care, Debt Ceiling, social security, veterans benefits, tax liability, legacy

You Can Maximize (and Minimize) Your Social Security Benefits

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Tue, Jul 26, 2011

One of the most important decisions seniors face is when to take Social Security.  According to experts, it's best to delay collecting until age 70, if possible, at whic time one would receive the greatest monthly benefit.  According to Jason Fichtner, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, "Far too often people choose to begin Social Security retirement benefits at age 62, not realizing that there's a 6% reduction in benefits for each year below the full retirement age."

With full retirement age now at age 66, Fichtner said that to take benefits at age 62 would result in a 30% reduction in monthly benefits. "If that same person waited until age 70 to begin benefits, the monthly payment would be 76% higher than that age 62 initial benefit and 32% higher than initial benefit if they claimed at age 66," he said.

To help people decide when might be the best time for them to claim these benefits, there are online calculators, some of which are free, including one by AARP.

These online calculators help people to make an informed decision according to their particular circumstances.  The calculator asks a series of questions to the user and provides estimates for both monthly and lifetime benefits across different ages. It also allows users to customize their use by calculating spousal benefits and the impact continuing to work might have while collecting benefits.  It also allows users to compare estimated monthly benefits to expected expenses in retirement and print a personalized summary report.

Another piece of the puzzle it includes is that it also asks whether you are married or divorced and advises users of some unknown claiming strategies like the file-and-suspend or claim-now-claim-more-later strategies for married people.  It also includes divorced-spouse benefit strategy.

Although no online calculator is perfect, the AARP calculator is simple and quite user friendly and does give good information.  Other available free tools are found at the following sites:

* The Social Security Administration's website

* AnalyzeNow.com

* The Social Security Claiming Guide, offered by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College

Fee-based tools are available at the following sites:

* Social Security Solutions.

* Maximize My Social Security

To learn firsthand how to make the most of your retirement earnings and how to protect them and all your other assets from taxes, probate, and increasing medical and nursing home costs, register online for one of our Trust, Estate & Asset Protection workshops or call 800-964-4295.

 

 

Tags: Retirement, social security, file-and-suspend, online calculator

Does "File-and-Suspend" Result in Higher Social Security Benefits?

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Fri, Jul 15, 2011

There are unique strategies that married couples may take advantage of to increase their Social Security benefit. 

One such opportunity is called, "file-and-suspend."  This can allow a couple to increase their Social Security retirement and survivor benefits.  It is most widely used when one spouse has a much lower lifetime earning benefit than the other. 

This is how it works.  Under Social Security rules a spouse who is eligible to file for benefits based on his/her spouse's record cannot do so until his/her spouse begins to receive those benefits.  With file-and-suspend someone who has reached full retirement age may choose to file for retirement benefits, then have those benefits suspended immediately so that his/her eligible spouse can file for spousal benefits (50%).  Therefore, the lower-earning spouse will immediately be able to receive a higher benefit, based on on his/her spouse's earnings record. 

In addition to increasing monthly retirement benefits, file-and-suspend also increases survivor benefits.  By suspending his/her benefits, the higher earning spouse earns delayed retirement credits at 8% per year (if you were born in 1943 or after) until age 70.  Since a surviving spouse usually receives 100% of whatever the other spouse was receiving (or was entitled to receive) at the time of death, suspending  a benefit to earn retirement credits can substantially increase the survivor's benefits.

For example: 

George is 66 (full retirement age) but wants to wait til he's 70 to retire.  If he waits, his benefit will go from $2,100 to $2,750 - 32% more per month because of retirement credits (8% for 4 years).  His wife, Mary, on the other hand, is also 66, but she wants to retire now.  Because she was an at-home mom, raising their three children, her lifetime earnings were substantially lower than George's.  She would only be eligible for $650.  However, because of George's $2,100 benefit, Mary would be entitled to 50% of George's benefit or $1,050.  To take advantage of this, George files for his benefits and then immediately suspends them, which will give Mary her increased benefit and will allow his suspended benefits to accrue at 8% per year (32%) until he retires at age 70 in 4 years.

This also increases Mary's survivor benefit because she would be entitled to 100% of whatever benefit George was receiving (or should have received) at the time of  his death.

Certainly there are many issues to consider surrounding when to begin receiving Social Security benefits.

For more information about estate planning and retirement strategies, watch our Estate & Retirement Planning videos or register online or call 800-964-4295 (25/7) to attend one of our Trust, Estate and Asset Protection Workshops.

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Tags: Retirement, social security, file-and-suspend

Who Will Fund Social Security for the Next Generation?

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Tue, Jun 28, 2011

It’s no news to hear that it's hard to find a job these days.  What is news is learning who is having the hardest time finding jobs - recent college graduates.  The youth unemployment rate today is above 17 percent, and the problem is growing steadily as new graduates fight the recently graduated for a very limited number of jobs.

Along with this phenomenon, there is the inverse problem at the other end of the spectrum - baby boomers who have been hard hit by the financial fall of recent years who do not dare or who cannot afford to stop working.  This is what is considered an "upside-down economy."

Since World War II and up until the year 2000, younger Americans have consistently been much more likely to be employed than older Americans.  However after 2000 that began to change, reducing the number of employed younger Americans to its lowest levels in more than half a century!  In contrast to this, the employment rate for older Americans has actually increased so that now the oldest members of the workforce are almost just as likely to be employed as the youngest. 

Although these numbers can be interpreted to mean that there are more young people now in college than there were in the past.  It could also mean that more seniors are working because they've had a better education and thus a more interesting career than seniors in the past, but still, money is the major issue for the older population.  According to John Rother, Policy Director at AARP, "The resources they were counting on to retire just aren't there."

As a result, economists have coined a new concept:  the "idleness rate," and it is rising.  This refers to people younger than 24 who are not in school and are not working.  Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard points out that our young people are at risk of becoming a "lost generation."

What can we do?  The best remedy for this situation would be quick and healthy job growth.  ALlng with this, our educational institutions must see to it that students actually graduate and end up with marketable skills.  There will be grave consequences if this younger generation continues to be unable to find gainful employment.  Who will fund Social Security and Medicare for them?

__________

Tags: Baby Boomers, social security, unemployment

Retirement Plan: Should You Plan on Social Security?

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Fri, Jun 03, 2011

There is a spectre that looms for every potential retiree and that is the projected exhaustion of Social Security (projected for 2036).  What can people do to protect or maximize their benefits?  What not to do is panic. Some pre-retirees feel they should sign up for Social Security now - earlier than they originally had planned - at least to lock in some benefit.  That, however, is not good planning.   

In the first place, changes to Social Security typically happen very slowly.  Secondly, if you sign up for Social Security too early, you lock in reduced benefit, probably unnecessarily.  Stay the course,  particularly if you planned to wait for higher payments at an older age.  After all, unlike many businesses in the private sector, Social Security is funded for decades to come, and may still be quite viable even after that. 
The Social Security system has some financial pressures that would be fairly simple to address. Wealthier retirees might receive slightly less of a benefit or more affluent workers might pay more. Nancy Altman, co-chair of the Strengthen Social Security Campaign and chair of the Pension Rights Center, said this: “With respect to whether the benefits will be there, it is important to understand that Social Security is currently in surplus and is projected to remain so for more than another decade, even with no Congressional action whatsoever. Its projected shortfall over its conservative 75-year valuation period is a manageable 0.6% of GDP … The question of how large the benefits should be and how to finance them are political questions, not economic ones. All past Congresses have ensured that benefits were always paid on time, and there is no reason to think future Congresses will be less responsible.”

Andy Landis, author of Social Security:  The Inside Story, has said, “But the numbers we’re seeing now have been expected since the mid-1980s.  It was always expected that Social Security financing, overhauled in 1983, would get us part way through Baby Boomer retirements in the 2030s. Later generations would decide how to steer Social Security after that. It’s sort of like your next birthday — it’s hardly a surprise because you could see it coming.”

For future planning, the best advice for maximizing benefits is to continue to work as long as possible and delaying retirement age well beyond 62 maybe even as far as to age 70, if possible.  It is also a good idea to have some level of long-term or disability insurance - just in case.

Along with this, getting a handle on strategies that a husband and wife should use is critical.  Be sure to evaluate claiming alternatives and consider spouse benefits when they do. Many people will benefit from claiming later and too many claim early.  In some instances, a lower-paying wife should claim as early as possible and a husband as late as possible.

And, if you’re unsure of your expected benefit, get an estimate from the Social Security website. (Visit the Social Security Administration’s benefit calculators website.) Also, read The National Academy of Social Insurance’s report, ‘When To Take Social Security: Questions to Consider.’ (Read the report from the National Academy of Social Insurance here.)

For more information on planning for retirement, read our report on -The 7 Biggest Concerns for your Retirement Planning.  Also, register online or call 800-964-4295 to attend one of our Trust, Estate and Asset Protection workshops to learn more about your options for a healthy, wealthy, and happy retirement.

Tags: Retirement, social security, retirement plans

Should You Downsize Before Your Retirement?

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Mon, May 23, 2011

 If you were counting on tapping the equity in your home to help finance your retirement, you may have reason to worry.  A recent issue of SmartMoney points out, “With home prices falling for nearly five years, many American must consider what to do with their homes should prices continue to collapse and the equity in their homes, if they are still lucky enough to have any, disappears completely.”

If you are a Baby Boomer, your plans may be taking quite a beating right now with warnings about shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare, rising health care costs, and the prospect of higher taxes and now evaporating home equity. No wonder so many Boomers say they plan to work through their “retirement.”

So, what do the experts say you should do with your home? Should you stay put and wait it out, hoping that home prices will eventually recover? Or should you bail out now, before you lose even more, and downsize?

“The answer is that it depends on the individual situation,” says Nicholas Paleveda, an adjunct professor at the graduate tax program at Northeastern University. “If you have plenty of assets for retirement, there may be no reason to downsize. If you do not have sufficient assets for retirement, then selling your home to live in a smaller home may be appropriate.”

Some options to consider include:

  • Multi-Generational Living. Think of The Waltons, with three generations living in one house. Multi-generational living was commonplace years ago, and is growing in popularity now. In fact the number of multiple generation households jumped to 7.1 million, or 6.1% of all US households in 2010.
  • Pay Down the Mortgage. Depending upon your circumstances, it may be wise to pay down, or pay off, your mortgage before retirement to reduce your monthly expenses.
  • Downsize. In today’s market, it may actually make sense to sell your house, even if it is underwater, if you can purchase a smaller home at a particularly good price and low interest rate. The cost of paying off your current mortgage would effectively be added to the purchase price of your new, smaller home. In some instances, after the dust settles, you could still be money ahead in the long run.
  • Buy a Second Home Now. That may seem counter-intuitive, but if you have the means and can find a good price on a second or vacation home that will mesh well with your retirement needs, then you could basically lock in that price (and interest rate) now, and sell your primary home when the market recovers.

Retirement planning has never been simple and is even more complex in today’s economy. You are well-advised to seek qualified counsel before making any major moves involving your home.For more information on your retirement options, watch elder law & estate planning expert, Dennis Sullivan, Esq., CPA, LLM, explain how to take control of your finances. 

To learn more about protecting your home, spouse, family and life savings, attend a free, educational Trust, Estate & Asset Protection Workshop. Register online or call 800-964-4295.

 


Tags: Retirement, Baby Boomers, social security, downsizing

Can You and Your Family Count on Social Security?

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Fri, May 06, 2011

Should you count on Social Security for retirement income?

Who knew that question would even be asked, let alone become so politically charged? The popular media today frightens people with blaring headlines that Social Security is bankrupt, and you are unlikely to receive a dime … countered by reassuring comments that the system has a multi-trillion-dollar surplus.

So – which is it? Is Social Security a pipe dream, a shell game, a bankrupt program from which you will never receive benefit? Or is it a social safety net for those whose working years are over? A recent Morningstar article tries to answer those questions, and provides insight as to whether or not you should count on it.

According to last year’s Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans don’t expect to receive Social Security benefits once they stop working. Younger generations are even more pessimistic, with 77 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds reporting that Social Security either has “major problems” or is actually in a state of crisis. Those feelings are not unfounded. It is true that the Social Security Fund now pays out more in benefits than it takes in by taxes, and much of the fund itself consists in Treasury bonds rather than actual cash.

But maybe things aren’t quite so bad.

Many analysts, including Morningstar, insist that Social Security isn’t insolvent. But it is a very different beast to different people, depending on their age.

Without question, the value of Social Security benefits to your eventual retirement income is decreasing. Gradually increasing the age when seniors can file for full benefits – the so-called Normal Retirement Age (NRA) – essentially amounts to phased-in benefit cut of 20 percent, according to [the National Academy of Social Insurance]. Additionally, dramatic increases in healthcare costs have had and will continue to have an increasing drag on Social Security income, as Medicare Part B premiums are deducted from Social Security payments.

Social Security statistically accounts for 40 percent of an average retiree’s income, making it an important aspect of your retirement planning. According to Morningstar, the best way to combat Social Security’s falling value over time is to maximize your own monthly payouts by waiting at least until your NRA to file for benefits. Monthly benefit payments are eight percent higher for every year you wait, up until age 70. In fact, your monthly income will be about 76 percent higher than it would be if you had claimed benefits at age 62. Morningstar includes a handy chart illustrating the increases in their article online.

To learn more about how you can preserve your home, family, life savings and assets, attend a free Trust, Estate and Asset Protection Workshop in Wellesley.

Tags: Retirement, social security

Social Security: Online Statements to Replace Statements via Mail

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Mon, Apr 18, 2011

 If you’re not already familiar with the Social Security Administration’s website, it may be time to start. You may already know that you can go online to get an application to replace your Social Security card, apply for Medicare, retirement or disability benefits. While all those online services may be helpful, a new addition to the website may become essential. The government is working to provide your yearly earnings statement exclusively online by the end of 2011.

The statements, mailed to 150 million people each year, show a projection of your future benefits and include a history of taxable earnings for each year – so people can check for mistakes – as well as the total amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes paid over your lifetime. While certainly a useful retirement planning tool for workers, the mailed statements cost the SSA more than $70 million a year.

In a recent article from the Associated Press, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue says the website offers the same estimates, while also allowing the individual to run scenarios to test their preparation and various outcomes. Nevertheless, critics point out that it does not, as yet, offer the detailed history of taxable incomes, which means you’ll have no way of catching possible mistakes. Plus, if you’re not really computer-savvy, or don’t have access to high-speed internet, the website could be quite difficult to use. 

Stopping the mailed statements is part of a trend in government to conduct more of its business electronically. The SSA already mails out few paper checks. About 88 percent of beneficiaries have their payments deposited directly into bank accounts, and approximately 41 percent of applications for retirement benefits come in online.

Visit the SSA website to find out more about what you can now do online. You may also benefit from downloading our recent article on "The 7 Biggest Concerns for Your Retirement Planning" as well as our Free Massachusetts Elder Guide to Medicare, Nursing Home & Asset Protection Planning.

For a more complete picture on planning for the future, please attend one of our free Trust, Estate & Asset Protection workshops

Tags: Medicare, Retirement, 2011, social security

Divorce over 50: 3 Costly Mistakes to Avoid

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Mon, Mar 28, 2011

Divorce after 50 is becoming increasingly common. Couples divorcing later in life have to unique complications that younger couples would never have to consider.

In the past two decades the divorce rate for couples over 50 has doubled--while the overall rate has seen a decline, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Family & Marriage Reseach from Bowling Green State University

By the time most people are 50, they have a long work history, own some real estate, have a retirement account, life insurance and more – in which case, it's critical to get the best settlement possible.


Smart Money recently ran an article that listed the  3 Mistakes to Avoid:

#1: Ignoring Taxes on Retirement Funds

#2: Overvaluing alimony, undervaluing Social Security

            Alimony, money paid monthly to the spouse who earns less, is riskier over 50, because the paying spouse has a higher chance of death.  Experts suggest getting a life insurance  on your ex-spouse to ensure an income steam, even in the event of death.

            Social Security is often undervalued in divorce settlements.  As we have Blogged before, if you have been married at least 10, your spouse may have a claim to your social security benefits.  Make sure you consider that in the divorce settlement.

#3: Forgetting about the kids

            Older couples have older children, but that doesn't mean there aren't problems. To prevent problems down the road, make a plan to protect assets, so that you can be assured your children, not say you ex's future spouses or your kids new wife will get the money.  Consider creating an asset protection trust, learn more at our free Trust, Estate and Asset Protection Trust workshops in Wellesley. 

            If you have children under 18, make sure you name a guardian.  It is probably best if the guardian is separate from the guardian of the money.  When your divorce is final, be sure to review all estate planning documents with your attorney, so they can be brought up to date with your current situation.  For our clients we offer the Lifetime Protection Program, so that your estate plan is up to date with changes in economic, personal or family situations.  

Tags: asset protection, Estate Planning, Estate Planning, Baby Boomers, social security

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