Do Caregiver Duties Help Older Women Live Longer?

Older woman cares for her senior husband at home who uses a wheelchair.Despite the considerable level of stress that can come with serving as a unpaid caregiver, a new study now suggests that taking care of a loved one may in fact lead to increased longevity among older women.

The findings, published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, revealed that women who said they were taking care of a loved one on a regular basis had a mortality rate 9 percent lower than that of non-caregivers over the course of the study.

While the study did not find a direct connection between caregiving and reducing risk of death, its authors describe the association as robust. As they point out, the existing literature about the health impacts of caregiving has been contradictory. Research in this area will therefore need to continue exploring the potential connection between reduced death rates among women who choose to take on caregiving responsibilities – as well as the reasons why this may be the case.

Women and Caregiver Responsibilities

Today, more than 35 percent of caregivers in the U.S. are age 65 or older, with caregiving services mostly undertaken by older women.

This study followed nearly 160,000 women aged 55 to 79 over roughly 20 years. The participants took part in two assessments 10 years apart.

The data was collected as part of several clinical trials focused on prevention of major chronic conditions in older women. However, the assessments included questions on caregiving. Participants were asked about whether they were actively providing caregiving aid to a loved one and, if so, how many hours they dedicated to the service weekly. About 41 percent of them reported serving in a caregiver role anywhere from less than once to more than five times a week.

The women also provided information on a number of other factors, including depressive symptoms, race, living status, smoking, and history of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.

Results

The women who reported being a caregiver over the two assessments showed not only a 9 percent lower death rate from any cause than those who were not caregivers, but also a lower risk of death from cancer or cardiovascular disease. This proved to be the case no matter how frequently they reported performing caregiver duties. Other factors, including how old the women caregivers were or whether they lived alone, likewise did not appear to affect this result.

Need for Further Research Regarding Caregiving and Decreased Death Rates

Caregiving remains a critical need and will continue as Americans grow older and live longer. Currently, 10,000 people in the U.S. are turning 65 years old each day, according to AARP.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified caregiving – whether paid or unpaid – as a major public health issue. Because caregiving is such an expensive service, many older people rely on family members to stand in the gap and provide their care. The resulting burden on family caregivers can include burnout, lost wages, and a lack of support.

“The burden of caregiving demands and their influence on health will be substantial in coming years,” co-author Michael J. LaMonte of the University of Buffalo-SUNY said in a news release. “[It] is an increasingly important focus in epidemiologic research,” he adds.

Learn More

If you are serving as a family caregiver or are considering taking on such a role, be sure you do your research. You may not be aware of all the duties involved and could find help through various resources.

If you’re unsure what kinds of assistance may be available to you or your loved one, connect with elder law attorney Addison Goff of Ruston, Louisiana. He may be able to determine what programs you qualify for as well as how to pay for services. Visit www.GoffandGoffAttorneys.com or call 318-255-1760 to schedule an office visit or Zoom conference to learn what’s best for you and your loved ones. 

 

Medicare Benefits 2024: 5 Positive Changes for Seniors

Three senior women clap and celebrate together around a table.More than 65 million seniors across the country benefit from Medicare, a government health insurance program.

When Does Medicare Start?

At age 65, you become eligible for Medicare if you are a U.S. citizen. You do not have to wait until you retire to apply for the program.

You can enroll in Medicare beginning three months prior to your 65th birthday. You can also do so during the month of your 65th birthday or during the three months that follow. 

Can I Get Medicare at Age 62?

Certain individuals may be able to secure Medicare coverage earlier than age 65. For instance, if you have end-stage renal disease, ALS, or a disability, it’s possible you could qualify.

What Are the Different Parts of Medicare?

Medicare’s four main parts cover different aspects of health care:

  • Part A covers institutional care in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. Part B pays for doctor visits and preventative care. This includes routine lab tests and certain outpatient treatments. Parts A and B serve as the so-called “traditional” parts of Medicare.
  • You can choose to enroll in the alternative to traditional Medicare, Medicare Part C, or Medicare Advantage. Part C plans bundle Parts A and B (and sometimes Part D) with other benefits, such as dental or vision care.
  • Medicare Part D coverage, which is often optional, covers many of your prescription medications.

Medicare Updates for 2024

Although 2024 Medicare premiums are seeing an increase, there are nevertheless a few bright spots.

Starting on January 1, 2024, Medicare enrollees may be pleased to hear about several positive changes taking place. These include the following five updates:

1. Medicare’s mental health coverage is expanding.

  • If you need a licensed mental health provider, you will be more likely to able to find a professional near you who accepts Medicare. About 400,000 more of these providers added nationwide by Medicare will include marriage and family therapists as well as mental health counselors.
  • Medicare can now help if you require treatment for alcohol abuse or substance use disorder. Older Americans are currently suffering from a substance abuse epidemic. In 2022, roughly 4 million seniors aged 65 and older were living with an addiction. Covered treatments will now include such services as psychotherapy, prescription drugs, and screenings.
  • Medicare will now cover up to 19 hours per week for intensive outpatient mental health care for qualifying patients. This includes enrollees who are struggling with serious mental health illnesses or substance abuse.

2. Up to 3 million more people could qualify for extra help paying their Medicare Part D premiums.

As of the start of 2024, the Medicare Extra Help Program will strive to boost its number of enrollees through various outreach efforts. Extra Help assists low-income seniors and people with disabilities. However, many who are eligible do not currently participate in the program, sometimes because they remain unaware of its existence.

In addition, another 300,000 individuals who already are part of the program will see their benefits expand further. They’ll see their out-of-pocket costs for their prescription medications drop by an average of $300 a year. These enrollees also will not have to pay a premium or deductible.

3. If your specialty medications are particularly pricey, you will see considerable savings in 2024.

Many people rely on certain expensive medications to treat such serious health conditions as cancer. Even with Medicare Part D, they may have no choice but to pay tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket each year for them.

If your prescription drugs covered by Medicare cost you more than $8,000 out of pocket, you will not be responsible for any other co-pays or coinsurance for the remainder of the calendar year. This is because Medicare Part D enrollees, as of 2024, will no longer have to pay a 5 percent co-pay for catastrophic coverage.

Note that if you rely solely on brand-name prescription medications, you will end up spending roughly $3,300 out of pocket to avoid the 5 percent co-pay. (Even better, come 2025, Part D enrollees will not pay more than $2,000 out of pocket for their prescription drugs in any given year.)

4. You’ll pay no more than $35 a month for insulin supplies covered by Medicare Part D.

As part of the Inflation Reduction Act, price cuts on insulin became effective on January 1, 2024. Medicare Part D plans therefore cannot charge enrollees more than $35 per month for insulin included in their plan. Part D deductibles for insulin supplies will no longer apply, either.

The cost of this medication has tripled over the past decade or so. Even for people who require insulin daily, many are still unable to afford it. In 2022, more than a million individuals with diabetes chose to ration their insulin supply because of the cost, according to one report.

5. If you suffer from chronic pain, Medicare will now cover your monthly services.

For the first time, people receiving Medicare who have persistent or recurring pain lasting longer than three months now can have such services has medication management and pain assessment covered by their plan. (You will still need to pay for your Medicare Part B deductible and coinsurance.)

Work With Your Attorney

If you need assistance navigating Medicare, reach out to Ruston, Louisiana-based elder law attorney Add Goff today. They can help you understand how to apply for or qualify for Medicare benefits.

Visit www.GoffandGoffAttorneys.com or call 318-255-1760. 

Most US Workers Say They Will File for Social Security Early

Sad senior woman looking into the distance with a blooming tree behind her.To secure the maximum amount in monthly Social Security retirement benefits, Americans must wait until full retirement age to start receiving their payouts. Results from a 2023 survey show that most of today’s workers know about this stipulation – and yet the vast majority say they’re willing to file for their Social Security benefits early anyway.

UK-based wealth management company Schroders surveyed 2,000 working Americans to learn more about their readiness for and perspectives on retirement. The results showed that a mere 10 percent of respondents said they plan to hold off until age 70 to take their Social Security benefits. This is the case even though 72 percent of them are aware their payments could be higher if they waited.

Why Are So Many People Willing to Give Up More Income?

Many of the survey participants – roughly 44 percent – said they worry about Social Security running out of funds. Their fears may not be entirely unfounded. The Social Security program has served as a safety net for millions of retirees, providing monthly benefits since 1940. However, based on some projections, timely payments may not be possible beyond 2037.

Another 36 percent of the respondents said they would take benefits earlier because they need the money sooner.

These fears, said Deb Boyden, head of US defined contribution at Schroders, reflect “a crisis of confidence in the Social Security system.”

“Fear about the stability of Social Security has people walking away from money that could improve their quality of life in retirement,” she said.

Other Key Findings

  • Nearly half of all survey respondents (49 percent) acknowledged that they do not have any strategies in place for retirement income.
  • Less than a quarter (24 percent) of those aged 60 to 67 who are still in the workforce said they believe they’ve accumulated sufficient retirement savings.
  • Among respondents aged 45 and older, 69 percent say they fret over money daily – on average, 1.6 hours every day. More than half of this same group (53 percent) said they worry that stress over finances will have a negative impact on their overall health.
  • Retirees who’d worked with a financial planner had higher average monthly incomes than those who had not sought out the help of an advisor ($5,075 per month versus $3,000 per month). Those who had set up a formal financial plan received nearly twice more per month on average in retirement – about $5,810.

Find more information on the survey results online.

Pay Monthly for Medicare Part D Prescriptions Come 2025

$100 bill under scattered pills.What Is Medicare Part D?

Adults who are age 65 and older can enroll in Medicare, a federal health insurance program. If you have signed up for Medicare Part A, Part B, or both, you can also sign up for Part D.

Available through private insurers, Medicare Part D remains optional and covers certain categories of prescription medications. When choosing a Part D plan, review the specific drugs that each plan covers. You may already rely on a particular prescription medication or medications. Take the time to determine whether it appears on the list of drugs covered by any plans you are considering.

To get a better understanding of the wealth of options available for Medicare coverage, be sure to visit the Medicare website.

What Is the Medicare Prescription Payment Plan?

In August 2023, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that a new Medicare Prescription Payment Plan will start in 2025. Under this plan, all Medicare prescription drug plans, including Medicare Advantage plans, will now offer enrollees the option to spread out their prescription drug out-of-pocket costs over 12 months.

How Will It Work?

You may have high prescription costs; about one-third of seniors today in fact have trouble affording their medications. Meanwhile, about one in five say they have chosen to skip dosages from time to time to make their high-cost prescriptions last longer.

If you normally pay at the pharmacy at the time you pick up your prescription, you will have another option under the new plan. Come 2025, you can opt to be billed for and pay these costs (capped at a certain amount) over time through your insurer. This is meant to make prescription drugs more accessible and manageable for those who need them most. It will not, however, change the prescription costs.

Starting in 2025, Part D enrollees may opt into the program by contacting their Part D sponsor and completing the Medicare Prescription Payment Plan election process. This is true regardless of whether you have a traditional or Medicare Advantage plan.

What Happens Next?

After enrolling in the plan, your sponsor will notify any pharmacy that fills a prescription of your status, and you will not pay anything at the register. Instead, you will be billed the cost in monthly installments by your plan sponsor.

If you do not pay the billed amount, your participation in the program may be terminated. However, you cannot be terminated from the Part D plan for failing to pay for your prescriptions. In addition, CMS guidance states the sponsor must do the following:

  • issue notices for missed payments,
  • give a grace period of at least two months for failure to pay the billed amount, and
  • create a reinstatement process to allow those enrolled to get back into the program if they can show good cause for failing to make payments.

The Plan May Not Be Right For You

If affording your medication is a hardship and spreading out payments over 12 months would not provide enough reprieve, a more appropriate option may be one of the four Medicare Savings Programs or the Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy known as Extra Help. Not everyone is eligible for these programs, however, and you must apply for these options.

While the Medicare Prescription Payment Plan may be good news for many, it may not be right for everyone, such as those with low out-of-pocket prescription costs. It is expected that feedback from the public and other interested parties will add some further changes to the proposed Medicare Prescription Payment Plan to help as many people as possible.

Additional Resources

To learn more about Medicare, including your payment options, be sure to consult with your elder law attorney.

Visit www.GoffandGoffAttorneys.com or call 318-255-1760. 

Retirees: Deduct Your Long-Term Care Insurance Premium

Even if you have a long-term care insurance policy, you may likely be hoping that you won’t ever have reason to use it. Regardless of what the future holds, there’s one silver lining of which you may not be aware. That is, premiums on many long-term care insurance policies are in fact tax-deductible.

What Is Long-Term Care Insurance?

Long-term care insurance, or LTCI, can help you prepare for covering the cost of care in a nursing home facility or other setting when and if you need it. Unfortunately, the likelihood that you’ll need long-term care services at some point is high. In fact, about 70 percent of older adults find themselves having to rely on at least some long-term care in their later years.

When individuals require long-term care, it means that they need assistance when completing activities of daily living (ADLs). These basic daily tasks include dressing oneself, showering, or moving safely from one place to another in one’s household, such as from the bed to the bathroom, or in and out of one’s chair. In most cases, your LTCI policy will begin covering long-term care services if you cannot perform at least two ADLs on your own.

The cost of LTCI policy premiums can be out of reach for many people, and some insurers have been raising premiums over the course of time. According to one 2022 survey by HCG Secure, a mere one in 10 of Americans older than 65 have a long-term care insurance policy. However, if you have purchased a tax-qualified plan, you may be able to deduct the insurance premium as a medical expense.

Is My Long-Term Care Insurance Policy Tax-Deductible?

You can deduct numerous types of medical and dental expenses from your taxes. In addition to qualified long-term care insurance premiums, other deductible health expenses include the following:

  • prescription medications and insulin
  • substance use disorder inpatient treatment or smoking-cessation programs
  • prescription or reading eyeglasses
  • contact lenses
  • hearing aids
  • X-rays
  • artificial teeth
  • acupuncture treatments
  • the cost of caring for a guide dog for a person with a vision or hearing disability

When filing your 2023 federal income taxes, check with your insurance broker or state insurance commission to determine whether your LTCI policy qualifies.

Only certain long-term care insurance policies meet the criteria for a tax deduction. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners sets these rules. Typically, many hybrid long-term care policies do not qualify for a premium deduction. (For more information on what defines a qualified LTCI contract, consult the IRS’ Publication 502 for the current tax year.)

If your policy does qualify, you can deduct your LTCI policy premium up to a specified limit. Keep in mind that you will only be eligible for a tax deduction if all of your eligible medical expenses totaled more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income for the year.

Select states also offer LTCI tax incentives, so be sure to check with your tax advisor. Note, too, that if you are self-employed, the rules regarding these deductions can differ.

How Much Can I Deduct in 2024?

If your annual LTCI policy premium is higher than the limit provided in the table below, it will count as a medical expense. The older you are, the higher your deductible limit. For example, if you are a 75-year-old individual at the end of 2023, you may be able to deduct up to $5,880 in LTCI premiums as qualified medical expenses.

Table 1. 2024 LTCI Tax Deductible Limits.

Attained Age Before the Close of 2023 Maximum Deduction in 2024
Age 40 or younger $470
Age 41 to 50 $880
Age 51 to 60 $1,760
Age 61 to 70 $4,710
Age 71 and older $5,880

These are lower deduction limits than in previous years. The Internal Revenue Service adjusts these limits each year.

The cost of long-term care services can in large part depend on where you live. Check out this online tool to get an estimate based on your ZIP code.

The ins and outs of LTCI products can prove to be complicated. Consult with Explder Law Attorney Add Goff to learn more about how LTCi can help your estate plan. An elder law attorney can provide guidance on purchasing an LTCI policy and also assist you in planning for the possibility that you will need long-term care in the future.  Goff and Goff cannot give tax advice. For tax questions, please consult with your tax professional.

Medicare Benefits 2024: 5 Positive Changes for Seniors

Three senior women clap and celebrate together around a table.More than 65 million seniors across the country benefit from Medicare, a government health insurance program.

When Does Medicare Start?

At age 65, you become eligible for Medicare if you are a U.S. citizen. You do not have to wait until you retire to apply for the program.

You can enroll in Medicare beginning three months prior to your 65th birthday. You can also do so during the month of your 65th birthday or during the three months that follow. (If it’s your first time enrolling in Medicare, learn more about rules that are making it easier to sign up.)

Can I Get Medicare at Age 62?

Certain individuals may be able to secure Medicare coverage earlier than age 65. For instance, if you have end-stage renal disease, ALS, or a disability, it’s possible you could qualify.

What Are the Different Parts of Medicare?

Medicare’s four main parts cover different aspects of health care:

  • Part A covers institutional care in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. Part B pays for doctor visits and preventative care. This includes routine lab tests and certain outpatient treatments. Parts A and B serve as the so-called “traditional” parts of Medicare.
  • You can choose to enroll in the alternative to traditional Medicare, Medicare Part C, or Medicare Advantage. Part C plans bundle Parts A and B (and sometimes Part D) with other benefits, such as dental or vision care.
  • Medicare Part D coverage, which is often optional, covers many of your prescription medications.

Medicare Updates for 2024

Although 2024 Medicare premiums are seeing an increase, there are nevertheless a few bright spots.

Starting on January 1, 2024, Medicare enrollees may be pleased to hear about several positive changes taking place. These include the following five updates:

1. Medicare’s mental health coverage is expanding.

  • If you need a licensed mental health provider, you will be more likely to able to find a professional near you who accepts Medicare. About 400,000 more of these providers added nationwide by Medicare will include marriage and family therapists as well as mental health counselors.
  • Medicare can now help if you require treatment for alcohol abuse or substance use disorder. Older Americans are currently suffering from a substance abuse epidemic. In 2022, roughly 4 million seniors aged 65 and older were living with an addiction. Covered treatments will now include such services as psychotherapy, prescription drugs, and screenings.
  • Medicare will now cover up to 19 hours per week for intensive outpatient mental health care for qualifying patients. This includes enrollees who are struggling with serious mental health illnesses or substance abuse.

2. Up to 3 million more people could qualify for extra help paying their Medicare Part D premiums.

As of the start of 2024, the Medicare Extra Help Program will strive to boost its number of enrollees through various outreach efforts. Extra Help assists low-income seniors and people with disabilities. However, many who are eligible do not currently participate in the program, sometimes because they remain unaware of its existence.

In addition, another 300,000 individuals who already are part of the program will see their benefits expand further. They’ll see their out-of-pocket costs for their prescription medications drop by an average of $300 a year. These enrollees also will not have to pay a premium or deductible.

3. If your specialty medications are particularly pricey, you will see considerable savings in 2024.

Many people rely on certain expensive medications to treat such serious health conditions as cancer. Even with Medicare Part D, they may have no choice but to pay tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket each year for them.

If your prescription drugs covered by Medicare cost you more than $8,000 out of pocket, you will not be responsible for any other co-pays or coinsurance for the remainder of the calendar year. This is because Medicare Part D enrollees, as of 2024, will no longer have to pay a 5 percent co-pay for catastrophic coverage.

Note that if you rely solely on brand-name prescription medications, you will end up spending roughly $3,300 out of pocket to avoid the 5 percent co-pay. (Even better, come 2025, Part D enrollees will not pay more than $2,000 out of pocket for their prescription drugs in any given year.)

4. You’ll pay no more than $35 a month for insulin supplies covered by Medicare Part D.

As part of the Inflation Reduction Act, price cuts on insulin became effective on January 1, 2024. Medicare Part D plans therefore cannot charge enrollees more than $35 per month for insulin included in their plan. Part D deductibles for insulin supplies will no longer apply, either.

The cost of this medication has tripled over the past decade or so. Even for people who require insulin daily, many are still unable to afford it. In 2022, more than a million individuals with diabetes chose to ration their insulin supply because of the cost, according to one report.

5. If you suffer from chronic pain, Medicare will now cover your monthly services.

For the first time, people receiving Medicare who have persistent or recurring pain lasting longer than three months now can have such services has medication management and pain assessment covered by their plan. (You will still need to pay for your Medicare Part B deductible and coinsurance.)

Work With a Professional

If you need assistance navigating Medicare, reach out to Elder Law Attorney Add Goff in Ruston, La. at 318-255-1760 or info@GoffandGoffAttorneys.com. 

10 Ways to Maximize Your Social Security Retirement Benefits

Smiling African American retired couple walk together on the beach.Social Security wasn’t meant to be a primary source of income for retirees when it was first created in 1935. It sought to provide an umbrella of protection for people who couldn’t save enough for retirement. Most Americans didn’t think much about Social Security, perhaps because they were living shorter lives and relying on guaranteed incomes.

Nowadays, however, you might wonder how you can increase your Social Security retirement benefits. In fact, you may be able to double or even triple your monthly checks. Read on for potential strategies available to you.

Simple Strategies to Boost Your Retirement Benefits

To help you get the most out of your Social Security retirement benefits, you can use more than one of the following strategies, though some of them have conditions regarding who can use them:

1. Work at Least 35 Years

How much you get from Social Security depends on the years during which you earn the most money. Your payout decreases if you haven’t worked for at least 35 years.

If you work for more than 35 years, a year with higher earnings will cancel out a year with lower earnings when figuring out your Social Security income. (Read more on how the Social Security Administration, or SSA, calculates retirement benefits.)

2. Work Until Your Full Retirement Age

You can file for benefits payments as early as age 62. Yet early retirement means getting smaller monthly payments from Social Security. Your full retirement age will vary depending on the year you were born.

For example, for people born after 1960, full retirement age is 67 years. You’ll always incur a penalty if you claim before you reach your full retirement age.

Note that if you file for Social Security before you reach full retirement age and then keep working, you might not get all your benefits immediately.

Anyone under full retirement age who gets Social Security retirement benefits and makes more than $21,240 in 2023 will have $1 taken out of their check for every $2 they make over the cap. The cap will increase to $22,320 in 2024. The year you’ll reach full retirement age, the most you can earn goes up to $56,520 (in 2023), and the penalty goes down to $1 being taken out for every $3 you earn over the cap.

Once you reach full retirement age, however, you can work and get Social Security without a penalty. The SSA will recalculate your benefits to account for delayed past benefit payments and continued earnings.

3. Delay Claiming Social Security Until You’re 70

You don’t have to claim your Social Security benefit immediately if you don’t need the money. If you delay your payments past your full retirement age and wait longer, you may become eligible for delayed retirement credits that increase your monthly payment. Eventually, you may get more each month.

Every year until age 70, payments will increase by about 8 percent. After that, waiting to sign up for Social Security won’t benefit you in any way.

For example, if you are 67 and can start getting $1,000 a month from Social Security, you could get $1,240 a month if you wait until you turn 70. These higher payments will continue for the rest of your life, and every year, they rise to help in keeping up with inflation.

Many financial planners suggest their clients use other financial resources, such as retirement funds, if that allows them to delay filing for Social Security.

SSA workers sometimes tell people wrongly that they can’t suspend their payouts; visit the SSA website to get the facts.

4. Get Social Security Benefits for Your Spouse

If you’re married, there are also strategies that may allow you to get more out of Social Security.

Spouses who don’t make as much money as their partner might get more from a spousal benefit than from their own retirement benefit. You can get up to half of what the person who makes more money receives when they reach full retirement age.

The spouse making more money must receive retirement benefits in order for their partner to get a spousal benefit. (Learn more about how the SSA calculates these benefits and its other requirements.)

When couples decide how to use Social Security, they should consider the benefits for a surviving spouse. A widow or widower may be able to get survivor payments as a surviving spouse.

Suppose the benefit amount from the deceased spouse is greater than the surviving spouse’s current benefit. In that case, the surviving spouse may be able to get the deceased partner’s survivor benefit while their own benefit grows. At a later age, the surviving spouse can switch to their own benefit.

It can be complicated to coordinate benefits with a spouse. You might want to use a Social Security claiming calculator to determine your choices. You can pay for services such as Social Security Solutions or Maximize My Social Security; or, use AARP’s free calculator.

5. Investigate Divorced Spousal Benefits

If you’re not married right now but were previously married for at least 10 years, you may qualify for spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record.

Benefits can be up to half of the worker’s total retirement payout. You must be at least 62 years old to access these benefits, and you don’t have to be receiving a benefit of your own. (This differs from regular spousal benefits, where the primary worker usually has to apply before the spouse can get anything.) However, if you remarry, divorced spousal benefits stop.

If your ex-spouse died and you were married for at least 10 years, you may get up to 100 percent of their survivor benefits.

You can get divorced survivor benefits even after getting married again if you are 60 or older (or 50 or older if you have a disability). You may also be able to receive these benefits at any age if you’re caring for your ex’s child who is under age 16 or disabled (in this case, you need not have been married for 10 years). People getting survivor benefits can switch to their own benefits later if they are bigger; the same goes for the other way around.

Survivor benefits are based on how much your ex was getting or how much they would have received at full retirement age. (If your ex delayed starting benefits until after the full retirement age, the delayed retirement credit is added to the survivor benefit.)

Again, if you claimed benefits before you reached full retirement age, your payouts will be lower.

6. Look into Children’s Benefit Payments

Suppose you are retired, get Social Security benefits, and have dependent children under age 19. In that case, your children may be able to collect Social Security payments based on your work record. Those who are eligible may get up to half of a parent’s full retirement income, up to certain limits, each year.

Usually, eligible kids must be younger than 18, single, in full-time high school until 19 years old, or have incurred a serious disability before they turned 22.

Keep in mind that a family maximum limits how much a family can get based on the earnings record of one worker. The most a family can receive is between 150 percent and 188 percent of a worker’s monthly payout at full retirement age. If your total family benefits exceed the limit, the worker would still get a full check, but the payment would decrease for the kids.

Family benefits, like child and spousal benefits, are subject to Social Security’s earnings test. If the primary worker gets benefits early but still works, the payout may be cut or even removed.

7. Earn More if Possible

Whether you ask for a raise or secure a side job, earning more money may help protect you in the long run against risks like market instability, inflation, and taxes. If your wages consistently meet what the SSA refers to as the maximum taxable earnings, it will not tax you beyond that amount.

In 2023, this maximum taxable earnings cap is $160,200. Every year, the limit adjusts; in 2024, the limit will rise to $168,600. Let’s say your wages met the maximum taxable earnings limit for 35 years and you also held off on filing for Social Security until full retirement age. You would likely be among the few retirees to qualify for Social Security’s highest possible benefit payout.

This may not prove achievable for many workers. That’s why it’s crucial to pursue any number of other strategies that can help boost your retirement income.

For example, waiting until full retirement age to file means you’ll be paying more Social Security tax over time. Paying a bit more in taxes could later lead to a steady stream of higher income that considers inflation and helps to settle debt, pay for education, and meet household emergencies.

8. Lower Your Social Security Taxes

You may need to pay federal income taxes on some of your Social Security in retirement.

If your annual combined income is between $25,000 and $34,000 (or between $32,000 and $44,000 for a couple), you may have to pay taxes on up to 50 percent of your Social Security benefit. If your combined income totals more than $34,000 ($44,000 for a couple), up to 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable.

To get the most out of your retirement income and lower these taxes, there are plans you can pursue ahead of time to help reduce your combined income. For example, this might include having a Roth IRA from which to withdraw income, tax free, during retirement. At a certain age, you may also consider making a charitable donation from your IRA. A qualified financial planner can assist you in figuring out a range of strategies that will best suit your situation.

9. Withdraw Your Social Security Application

You may not have realized that filing early for Social Security would ultimately reduce your benefits. Within the first year after applying for Social Security, you can change your mind and request to withdraw your application. You must do so in writing and pay back all the benefits you’ve earned. Note that you can only do this once.

Withdrawing your application is not the same as suspending your benefit. Once you hit full retirement age, you can suspend your benefits anytime by contacting the SSA.

10. Look Over Your Records

The SSA keeps a record of your Social Security earnings. You can sign up for a MySocialSecurity account to access your statements each year.

You can use your W-2 form, tax return, or pay stub to check your earnings history. Check your records and verify their accuracy.

If you need help navigating Social Security benefits, visit the SSA website, call the SSA at 800-772-1213 on weekdays, or contact an experienced elder law attorney.  The Ruston, Louisiana based estate planning and elder law attorney Add Goff is here to help. Contact our office at 318-255-1760, or visit our website at www.GoffandGoffAttorneys.com. 

Is an Independent Living Facility Right for Me?

Senior African American woman stands smiling outside of her independent living complex.Housing options and the associated costs are among the top priorities for many seniors. Today, the housing market is unpredictable, while many seniors currently living independently may also have concerns about continuing their lifestyles. Moving to an independent living facility may be the best choice to accomplish your financial goals and maintain your way of life.

What Is an Independent Living Facility?

An independent living facility is a housing arrangement that caters to older people, usually aged 55 and older. These facilities offer a community. Residents can live with people who share common interests while having fun and staying active. Some people may refer to these facilities as 55-and-over communities, active adult communities, or retirement communities.

These environments are different from other long-term care facilities. For example, in nursing homes patients are not likely to live in a private apartment or arrangement. They are usually dependent on medical caregivers. Residents of assisted living facilities, meanwhile, may not require medical care 24-7, but do need assistance with activities of daily living.

In contrast, older adults who live in independent living facilities continue to maintain their independent lifestyles but gain the support of trained staff.

Who Is the Best Fit for Independent Living?

Independent living facilities best serve seniors who do not require constant medical care. If you or your spouse require round-the-clock medical attention, you should consider another living arrangement. However, there are usually 24-hour staff in these types of facilities to respond in case of an emergency.

While independent living facilities are best for more active seniors, they are also beneficial for older adults who do not have the ability or resources to maintain their homes anymore. Independent living facilities remove the need for older people to do household chores and yardwork, which can make their lives that much easier.

Types of Independent Living Facilities

Living arrangements in these facilities can vary. Here are some of the types of housing options an older adult can expect from an independent living facility:

Senior Apartments

A senior can choose to live in an apartment complex that is age-restricted, where most residents are at least 55 years old. Some facilities include recreational programs, community meals, transportation services, and community services in the rent.

Low-Income Housing

If you are a low-income senior, you may be able to find housing complexes that are subsidized by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Learn more about HUD’s Supportive Housing Program.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities

At a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), seniors who can care for themselves but have declining health may be a good fit. CCRCs allow a spectrum of arrangements, so when a resident’s health starts to wane, they can easily move from one part of the facility to another that offers more extensive care while remaining in the same complex.

What Should I Look for in an Independent Living Facility?

You should take some time to consider what you want in your living arrangements before making a final decision about where you will spend your time in your older years.

You may want to consider location as a major factor in your decision. Will you be close enough to stay in contact with your network of family and friends, if that is your preference? Or would you like to make a move to a different state or a warmer climate to connect with new people?

What services are you set on having? For example, will you have your own vehicle and, if not, does the facility offer transportation options?

You may want to live in a facility that offers certain amenities. Perhaps you would like to use a gym, take part in classes or workshops, or enjoy other hobbies. Some facilities offer access to more than one on-site dining option. Others may have a movie theater, nail salon, walking trails, or organized trips to nearby museums, concert halls, or casinos.

Of course, cost is more often than not also part of the equation. Compare the costs of several different independent living communities if possible. Confirm whether the cost of the facility includes the services and amenities in which you are interested.

Pricing will also vary greatly across states and cities. For instance, in Connecticut, the average monthly cost for an independent living facility is nearly $3,500. In Mississippi, the average may be less than $2,000 a month.

Also, think about the following before choosing a community:

Your Health and Your Spouse’s Health

The level of care you and your spouse require is one of the biggest questions that you must answer before choosing the best living arrangements. Independent living facilities are not the best option for people who need a great deal of medical care.

Your Mobility

It may be time to make new living arrangements if your mobility has decreased as you have gotten older.

Can You Maintain Your Home?

Moving to an independent living facility can be a good decision for seniors who are looking to downsize from their home.

 

Contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 today and schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you with your planning.

Technology in Senior Care

Technology in Senior Care

It is possible for many aging Americans to live longer and healthier lives in their own homes because of the internet of things and technological advancements such as self-monitoring medical devices, telehealth, and smart homes. Elder law and at-home medical technology uses can intersect in several ways. Whether you are a senior looking to stay in your current home or have an aging parent and want to implement systems that create better safety and communication, an elder law attorney can help you craft a plan.

Strategies

Legal Documents

Elder law attorneys can assist older adults when creating legal documents, such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies, in an online environment. These and other legal documents are crucial to have in place as they authorize someone to make decisions about the older adult’s medical treatment and the use of at-home medical technology.

Meetings with your estate planning or elder law lawyer and family members can happen virtually, and some states now legally recognize e-signatures. Creating these documents without leaving your home benefits seniors with mobility and transportation issues and protects against exposure to infectious diseases.

Privacy and Security

Elder law attorneys can advise older adults on the privacy and security of their personal information and medical data when using at-home medical technology. Secure network communication protocols will keep hackers from stealing your information and ensure the data integrity of communications with medical professionals and entities.

Medicaid Eligibility

Medicaid, the government health insurance program for low-income individuals, may pay for certain at-home medical technology if it’s deemed medically necessary. An elder law attorney can help older adults navigate the Medicaid eligibility process to ensure they receive all the benefits to which they are entitled.

Telehealth services allow Medicaid to reach more seniors at a lower cost than ever. Whether you’re having issues with eligibility, understanding home health services, or selecting home health providers, an elder law attorney can help you understand your Medicaid options.

Long-term care planning

Elder law attorneys can help older adults plan for future needs of long-term care, including using at-home medical technology to help them age in place and maintain their independence for as long as possible. Incorporating at-home medical technology into long-term care planning may include the following:

  • Monitoring Health – Technology such as wearable devices, remote monitoring systems, and telehealth services can track vital signs and send alerts to caregivers if there are any concerns.
  • Medication Management – Personal emergency response systems (PERS) and smart home devices can ensure that older adults are safe and can call for help if needed.
  • Mobility Aids – Robotic exoskeletons, stairlifts, and smart home devices can help older adults with mobility issues move around their homes and control the environment (locks, lighting, temperature) more easily.
  • Social Engagement – Virtual reality, video conferencing, and social networks can connect older adults with loved ones and socialize with others combating isolation and feelings of loneliness.
  • Care Coordination – Medical technology can connect older adults with care providers and healthcare professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and social workers, to monitor the care and support they receive at home.

At-home medical technology is a more affordable option than expensive institutional care. When planning for long-term care, it’s important to consider how technology can help older adults maintain their independence and quality of life.

Guardianship (Interdictions)

In some cases, older adults may be unable to make decisions about their medical treatment or use of at-home medical technology due to cognitive decline or other health issues. Elder law attorneys can assist in appointing a guardian  called a Curator to make these decisions on behalf of their loved one.

Getting Started

An elder law attorney can help an aging adult, and their family understand what at-home medical technology is available and if government programs will pay for it. Getting seniors to use at-home medical technology can be challenging and generally falls under the direction of the family. There are several strategies to implement to make the process easier:

  1. Keep it simple by starting with the basics. Then gradually introduce more advanced features as your loved one becomes more comfortable with the technology.
  2. Make sure the senior understands the benefits of the technology. Explain how it will help them stay healthy and independent and make their life easier.
  3. Demonstrate how to use the technology. Walk your loved one through the setup and use of each device, making sure they know how to operate it.
  4. Provide your loved one with a user manual or guide for reference.
  5. Schedule regular check-ins with your loved one to see how they’re doing with the technology, answer any questions, and ensure their communications with medical professionals are timely and accurate.
  6. Provide your loved one with technical assistance while visiting, and have them contact you if they experience technical issues. Everyone needs reliable IT support.
  7. Look for local support groups and online communities so your loved one can connect with others using similar technology.
  8. If your loved one is having difficulty understanding or not using the technology, consider hiring a professional to help with device setup, training, and guidance.
  9. Encourage your loved one to engage in a trial period with each new technology and see how they feel about it. If they don’t use or are uncomfortable with that particular technology, there might be better solutions.

Many providers make smart home technology for aging adults. The best options depend on the specific needs and preferences of the older adult. Also, compatibility with existing technology and devices. Technology needs will also change with additional health challenges that invariably occur when aging.

Summary

Elder law attorneys can recommend at-home technology so that an aging adult can safely live at home. Family members must participate in the installation of the technologies to ensure their loved one’s security and privacy. Technology alone is not a solution. A support system, including family, friends, lawyers, and healthcare providers, must coordinate efforts in the senior’s best interest.

Whether you need to plan for future at-home health care or already require care management via remote health monitoring. Consumer health technology can make senior care more patient-centric, personal, and accessible.

This article offers a summary of aspects of estate planning and elder law. It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice, contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.

Government programs for seniors

Government Programs for Seniors

AdditioNot knowing government programs for seniors and inflationary pressures are leading to financial insecurity for many US seniors. Besides reducing unnecessary expenses, many retirees or near-retirees should consider contacting the government to see if they qualify for assistance. It can reduce the anxiety many Americans feel living on a fixed income.

Government Programs for Seniors

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) works with thousands of national and local partners to provide tools, resources, advocacy, and best practices for every aging American to have health and financial security. Checking out if you qualify for senior benefits through government programs is easy to do with NCOA’s online BenefitsCheckUp tool.

Wasted Benefits

Every year billions of available dollars in US benefits programs are not claimed. Older adults (55 or more) are unsure if they are eligible. And, if so, how to apply. No registration is necessary, and requests for information are minimal. Personal data entered into the website will remain confidential, and accessing the database costs nothing. If you hate filling out forms and get confused by all the questions, estate planning and elder law attorneys go through this process every day. Contact them for help. There is rarely an upfront cost for legal help. You will be in a much better financial position once you begin receiving assistance.

The Online Benefits Check Up

If you complete the benefits check-up online, NCOA will send a confidential report to your mailing address. It will list the help available to you and how to apply for it. Since 2001 this NCOA program has helped millions of older adults receive help. This includes paying for medicine, food, utilities, and more. More than 2,000 benefits programs are in the check-up system, including categories such as:

  • Food and nutrition
  • Health care and medication
  • Housing and utilities
  • Income
  • In-home care and aging in place
  • Disability services
  • Skilled nursing facilities and other long-term care environments
  • Tax help
  • Legal, crisis, and general assistance
  • Veterans’ programs
  • Discounts and activities

The online BenefitsCheckUp site helps older individuals identify the federal and state assistance programs for which they can qualify. This NCOA website is newly revamped and permits error corrections and the addition of information if you feel the need to revise your answers. The resulting online individualized Eligibility Results report can be saved in a PDF format to email to yourself, your lawyer, or a trusted family member.

Providing this eligibility information to your elder law or estate planning attorney is a smart strategy. Suppose you already receive disability benefits through SSDI, SSI, or other programs. In that case, adding other government assistance programs may result in unintended and negative consequences. It may render you ineligible for benefits you already receive. Your lawyer will know the strategies already in place and how additional programs may affect your current planning.

The chart above shows how many older adults struggled to manage basic expenses. This even before the inflationary circumstances of late 2021 – 2022 (and predicted beyond). Participation rates in government assistance programs are at a historic low, with a mere low to mid sixty percent of eligible individuals participating.

Benefit take-up rates are low due to program enrollment barriers. Many older adults lack awareness that these benefits exist. When they do, the application process for many programs can be cumbersome and complex. Additionally, perceived stigma about receiving government assistance and other program misconceptions contribute to lower participation rates.

Ramsey Alwin, NCOA CEO and President, admits, “In today’s economy, inflation is taking a bigger and bigger bite out of people’s incomes.” He adds, “We completely redesigned BenefitsCheckUp to make it even easier … no one should have to choose between paying for medications or food.”

 

In Summary

To worry less and age better with more resources at your disposal, explore the NCOA’s BenefitsCheckUp website and learn what is available to you. Before you use the contact information to take the next step to apply consult with your elder law or estate planning attorney. Also, all assistance you receive should not interfere with existing plans and help you age successfully. More than 2,000 government benefit programs are available to help you. It can make the difference between thriving or just surviving. For assistance and information on government programs for seniors please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.