Many wartime veterans and their surviving spouses are currently receiving long-term care or will need some type of long-term care in the near future. The Veterans Administration has funds that are available to help pay for this care, yet many families are not even aware that these benefits exist.
Pension with Aid and Attendance pays the highest amount and benefits a veteran or surviving spouse who requires assistance in activities of daily living (dressing, undressing, eating, toileting, etc.), is blind, or is a patient in a nursing home. Assisted care in an assisted living facility also qualifies.
Pension with Housebound Allowance is for those who need regular assistance but would not meet the more stringent requirements for Aid and Attendance, and wish to remain in their own home or the home of a family member. Care can be provided by family members or outside caregiver agencies.
Basic Pension is for veterans and surviving spouses who are age 65 or older or are disabled, and who have limited income and assets.
Qualifying for Benefits
A veteran does not need to have service-related injuries to qualify for these pension benefits, but must meet certain wartime service and discharge requirements. A surviving spouse must also meet marriage requirements to the qualified veteran. Certain requirements must be met for a disability claim if the claimant (the veteran or surviving spouse filing for benefits) is less than age 65.
When determining eligibility, the VA looks at a claimant’s total net worth, life expectancy, income and medical expenses. A married veteran and spouse should have no more than $80,000 in “countable assets,” which includes retirement assets but does not include a home and vehicle. This amount is a guideline and not a rule.
Income for VA Purposes (called IVAP) must be less than the benefit for which the claimant is applying. IVAP is calculated by subtracting “countable medical expenses” (recurring out-of-pocket medical expenses that can be expected to continue through the claimant’s lifetime) from the claimant’s gross income from all sources.
Note: It is possible to reduce assets and income to a level that will be acceptable to the VA. For example, excess liquid assets (such as cash or stocks) could be converted to an income stream through the use of an annuity or promissory note. However, because the claimant may need to qualify for Medicaid in the future, it is critical that any restructuring or gifting of assets be done in a way that will not jeopardize or delay Medicaid benefits. An attorney who has experience with Elder Law will be able to provide valuable assistance with this.
Applying for Benefits
It often takes the VA more than a year to make a decision, but once approved, benefits are paid retroactively to the month after the application is submitted. Having proper documentation (discharge papers, medical evidence, proof of medical expenses, death certificate, marriage certificate and a properly completed application) when the application is submitted can greatly reduce the processing time.
Because time is critical for these aging veterans and their surviving spouses, application should be made as soon as possible. For more information, visit http://www.va.gov.
Not many parents like to talk to their children about their wealth. How much money people have is usually considered a private matter, something it’s not polite to talk about, but not talking to children about how much they may inherit can leave them unprepared to handle even a modest amount.
This is becoming especially important because children of baby boomers are due to inherit more wealth than ever before. It has been estimated that baby boomers will inherit $12 trillion from their parents and they will leave an additional $30 trillion to their own children over the next 30 to 40 years.
Many who have substantial wealth are concerned that letting their children know how much they have will take away any motivation for the children to be productive and involved citizens. They often want their children to learn how to live in the world as “normal” people, and to be productive and successful in their own right.
Even those who are not as wealthy may not want their children to know how much they have. They may be concerned that all of their savings will be needed for retirement, medical expenses and end-of-life expenses. If that turns out to be the case, their kids would not receive an inheritance they may have been counting on.
But not knowing what they may inherit leaves children in the dark and can actually hinder their ability to handle money wisely. Those who inherit a substantial amount may be unprepared for what to do with that much money. Many find they suddenly feel separated from their friends, isolated, even confused about how to handle relationships; some will be wasteful and lazy. Those who inherit even a modest amount are likely to be just as irresponsible; stories of inheritances being squandered on an expensive sports car, lavish vacations and fast living are all too common.
Experts agree it is important to talk to children about money and wealth, at least in generalities. There is no need to show them bank and financial statements. Instead of concentrating on money and material things, talk to them about your values, the opportunities money can provide and what you want to accomplish with it. Most parents want their children to think about others and many want to encourage entrepreneurship. Some give their children a small amount of money at a young age, and teach them how to save and invest, give a certain amount to charity and spend wisely.
Of course, the most effective way to teach children about money is to be an example; let them see you using your money in ways that reinforce your values. Many parents show how they value family relationships by spending their money on family vacations or buying a second home where the entire family can gather for summers and holidays. If your children see you being charitable and helping others, chances are they will become charitable, too.
With people living longer due to advances in medicine and changes in lifestyle, odds are that most of us will become disabled for some time before we die and may need long-term care. Unfortunately, too few plan for an event that is more likely to be a probability than a possibility—and the consequences of not planning can be disastrous for all involved.
When someone owns assets in his/her name and becomes unable to manage financial affairs due to mental or physical incapacity, only a court appointee can sign for the disabled person. This is true even if the person has a will, because a will can only go into effect after death. With some assets, especially real estate, all owners must sign to sell or refinance. So, for example, if a married couple owns their assets jointly, one of them becomes disabled and an asset needs to be sold or refinanced, the well spouse will have to go through the probate court in order for that to happen. In Wisconsin, this is a guardianship.
A guardianship is like a “living probate” because it is similar to the probate process at death but the person is still alive. It can be costly, time consuming and cumbersome with annual accountings, bonds, reports, ongoing determinations of incapacity/incompetency, and fees for attorneys, accountants, doctors and guardians. All costs are paid from the disabled person’s assets and all assets and proceedings become part of the public probate record. It usually lasts until the person recovers or dies which, depending on his/her age when the disability begins, can be years.
A fully funded revocable living trust avoids this problem. When a living trust is established, the titles of assets are changed from the individual’s name to the name of the trustee. This is called “funding” the trust. If the trust has been fully funded (all titles changed) and the person becomes unable to conduct business, there is no reason for a guardianship because the disabled person does not own any assets in his/her name. The successor trustee, hand-picked when the trust is created, can automatically step in without court interference and manage the disabled person’s financial affairs—selling or refinancing assets to help pay for his/her care and the care of loved ones, or keeping the owner’s business going—for as long as needed.
Other necessary documents include:
* Durable Power of Attorney, which allows the successor trustee to transfer to the trust assets that may have been overlooked, and to manage assets like IRAs and annuities that cannot be put into a living trust;
* Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney, which gives another person legal authority to make health care decisions (including life and death decisions) if you are unable to make them for yourself.
* HIPPA Releases, which give written consent for doctors to discuss your medical situation with others, including family members, loved ones and your successor trustee(s).
Planning for disability may also include disability income insurance (to help replace lost income), and long term care insurance (to help cover the costs of care that are not covered by medical insurance). Business owners may want to consider business or professional overhead insurance that will pay monthly operating expenses until they recover or the business can be sold or transferred, and buy-sell agreements in the event a co-owner becomes permanently disabled.
Disability before death is not always expected and it does not always happen, but it must be planned for.
Life insurance can be an affordable way to provide for our children, spouse, a sibling, aging parents and others if we should die while they are depending on us. Life insurance proceeds can provide extra income to help pay ongoing household bills and child care; pay off a mortgage, credit cards and other debt; pay for college; and pay funeral costs and other final expenses. Life insurance also plays a vital role in business succession planning and it has numerous applications in estate planning.
A simple way to determine the amount of life insurance needed for income replacement purposes is to multiply the annual income to be replaced by the number of years it will be needed. If the insured earns an income, use the amount actually contributed to the household (after personal expenses and taxes). If the insured is a stay-at-home parent and does not earn an income, determine how much will be needed to pay someone to take over those responsibilities. As an example, a dad who wants enough life insurance to replace his income for 20 years (until his children have completed college) would take the amount of annual income he wants to replace and multiply that by 20. He may want to add enough to pay for college and other expenses. The total amount is how much life insurance he needs. This is called the “face value” or “death benefit.”
Basically, there are two kinds of life insurance: term and permanent.
Term life insurance provides coverage for a set number of years, or term. It can be a good choice when coverage is needed for a certain number of years; for example, until the kids are out of college or the mortgage is paid off. It is also less expensive than permanent life insurance, and is least expensive when the insured is young and healthy. For these reasons, term life insurance is a popular choice for young families.
Permanent life insurance, on the other hand, does not expire at the end of a specified term (assuming the premiums are paid). Generally, the coverage stays in effect during the insured’s lifetime and the premium, depending upon the type of policy, can either stay the same or fluctuate based upon the financial performance of the policy. Permanent policies also build cash value over time that can be borrowed from the policy (reducing the proceeds paid at death), can be used to help pay the premiums, or can be refunded if the policy is cancelled.
The amount a family pays for life insurance must be a reasonable and manageable expense. The cost will depend on the amount, kind (term vs. permanent), and the age and health of the person to be insured. If the cost to replace income for 20 or 30 years is too much for the family budget, one option is to cover five to seven years of expenses, which will give the family time to cope and adjust after the loss.
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