Will my COVID-19 Stimulus Check impact Medicaid Eligibility?
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act (passed on March 27, 2020) is a $2 trillion economic relief package intended to help offset the huge financial crisis caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As part of the CARES Act, the majority of Americans, including those who are elderly and on fixed income, will receive a one-time stimulus check from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Many Medicaid beneficiaries who live at home, assisted living, adult foster care, or nursing homes are concerned the money will put them over the Medicaid income or asset limit, and therefore, disqualify them from Medicaid benefits. In addition, Medicaid applicants express the same concern that the additional money will cause them to have income or assets over Medicaid’s limits, and as a result, prevent them from becoming eligible for Medicaid.
Stimulus checks will not be counted as income and therefore will not impact Medicaid beneficiaries or applicants. However, should the stimulus money not be spent within 12 months, it may be counted as an asset, and therefore could impact eligibility in the year ahead. Therefore, make sure you spend the funds as soon as possible on eligible purchases in accordance with Medicaid regulations (DO NOT GIFT IT).
Nursing Home Residents
he receipt of a stimulus check by Medicaid beneficiaries who reside in nursing homes will not impact these individuals’ Medicaid benefits. Stated differently, the receipt of the check will not disqualify them from Medicaid nursing home care. This is because Medicaid will not count the money as income, which means it cannot push one over Medicaid’s income limit, and hence, result in the loss of Medicaid benefits.
While Medicaid-funded nursing home residents are required to surrender all of their income except for a personal needs allowance and a monthly maintenance needs allowance for a non-applicant spouse (if applicable) to Medicaid, the money from the stimulus check will not have to be surrendered to Medicaid. This is because, as mentioned above, the stimulus check is not considered as income by Medicaid. Rather, it can be thought of as a tax refund.
Furthermore, the stimulus check will not count as assets, given the money is spent within 12-months of receiving it. So, within this time frame, a nursing home Medicaid recipient can have possession of the money and it will not impact one’s Medicaid eligibility. However, it is imperative that the money, in its entirety, be spent within one year. If not, the money will count towards Medicaid’s asset limit and can potentially push one over the limit, resulting in Medicaid disqualification.
The money can be spent by nursing home residents in a number of ways. For example, one might buy new clothing, purchase a television for his / her room, stock up on extra snacks, or purchase an irrevocable funeral trust. What one does not want to do is to buy assets that are counted towards Medicaid’s asset limit. For instance, collectors coins would most likely be considered an investment and the value of them would be counted towards the asset limit, potentially causing one to be over the limit and lose Medicaid benefits.
The stimulus check will either be directed deposited in the nursing home resident’s bank account or be mailed to the address on one’s 2018 or 2019 tax return. To further clarify, if a refund was issued via direct deposit for one’s tax return, the stimulus check will be directed deposited in the same bank account. If not, the check will go in the mail. Persons who do not have to file tax returns, such as Social Security recipients, will receive stimulus checks in the same manner in which they receive their Social Security benefits. Therefore, if one receives his / her Social Security payment by direct deposit, the stimulus check will automatically be received via direct deposit also.
Spouses of Nursing Home Residents
Spouses of nursing home residents on Medicaid (called Community Spouses), who are not on Medicaid themselves will receive a stimulus check. The receipt of this check will not impact their spouses’ Medicaid eligibility in any manner. First, and foremost, the money from the stimulus check is not considered income by Medicaid, and even if it were, the income of a non-applicant spouse is not considered in the continuing Medicaid eligibility of his / her nursing home spouse.
For Medicaid beneficiaries, the entire check needs to be spent within 12-months of receiving it or the remaining funds will count as assets towards Medicaid’s eligibility. However, the same rule does not hold true for community spouses. To be clear, there is no time limit in which a spouse of a nursing resident must spend his / her stimulus check. Furthermore, non-applicant spouses can spend the stimulus check in any manner they choose, such as paying rent or mortgage, utility bills, food, or even on a splurge, such as a pricey piece of jewelry.
No matter how long it takes for the community spouse to spend the funds, and regardless of how they are spent, it will not impact the institutionalized spouse’s Medicaid eligibility. In other words, a community spouse can be rest assured that it will not cause the nursing home resident to lose his / her nursing home Medicaid benefits. This is because the assets of the non-applicant spouse are not considered for the continuing Medicaid eligibility of his / her Medicaid beneficiary spouse. (The community spouse’s assets are only considered when determining initial eligibility).
The community spouse will receive the stimulus check either via direct deposit or in the mail. Exactly the manner in which it will be received will be based on one’s 2018 or 2019 tax return and how a refund was issued. For instance, if one received a refund via the mail, the address on file will be used and the stimulus check will be mailed to that address. For those who are not required to file tax returns, such as recipients of Social Security, the check will be received in the same way in which their monthly Social Security benefit is received. This means that if it is deposited directly in one’s bank account, the stimulus check will also be directly deposited.
Please note that the institutionalized spouse will also receive a stimulus check. However, at this time, it is not known if the check will be issued separately from his / her community spouse’s check. It is our assumption that if 2018 or 2019 tax returns were filed jointly, the couple will receive one check (couples who filed joint tax returns are eligible for double the amount of a single filer), while if tax returns were filed separately, each spouse will receive an individual check. Again, for persons on Social Security, there is no need to file tax returns. In this case, checks will automatically be received in the same manner in which Social Security benefits are received.
How Much Will the Stimulus Check Be?
The amount of the stimulus check, also called an economic impact payment or recovery rebate, may be for as much as $1,200 / person.
• Individuals who earn up to $75,000 / year will receive a $1,200 check.
• Married couples, filing jointly who earn up to $150,000 / year, will receive a $2,400 check.
• Individuals who earn up to than $99,000 / year will receive a check, but it will be for less than $1,200.
• Married couples, filing jointly who earn up to $198,000 / year, will receive a check, but it will be for less than $2,400.
Payments will be based on one’s tax returns from 2018 or 2019. Please note that for disabled persons and seniors who receive Social Security payments, it is not necessary for a tax return to be filed. (Persons who receive Social Security benefits generally do not have to file a tax return). Rather, the IRS will automatically send out economic impact payments to these individuals.
Checks will be received either via direct deposit or in the mail.
SOURCE: American Council On Aging
Probate Challenges and Estate Administration Roadblocks During COVID-19 Corona virus Pandemic
Many of our clients are in the midst of settling the estate of a deceased loved one or have just had a loved one pass away and are wondering what comes next. An event such as this has both personal and legal consequences. Below are observations on issues that may immediately present themselves.
• Immediate steps may be limited by circumstance. If someone has just died and the cause of death is unknown, public health officials may limit the immediate steps one would usually take until the cause of death is determined and no known COVID-19 risk exists. Depending on circumstances, there may be some delay in physically getting access to the premises, securing them and searching for a will and other documents if they are not in possession of the family or the decedent’s attorney. It is always wiser to have one’s original estate planning documents safely secured off the premises and make sure a trusted individual has access to the storage place.
• Once access is permitted, secure the premises if they become unoccupied. Subject to the necessary steps to ensure everyone’s safety (which may include disinfecting) the nominated personal representative may take steps, such as changing locks, necessary to secure the physical contents and financial documents which may remain in the home. These steps can be taken before one’s official appointment. If additional or condominium fees must be paid to allow enough time for an orderly inspection, appraisal, or the like, this can be treated as an expense of the estate.
• The legal process of estate administration can begin and continue. While the probate courts of the states in which we conduct estate administrations have limited or closed off physical access to the public, emergency hearings (conducted telephonically) continue and many routine documents can be e-filed. Routine non-contested wills can still be allowed; while reduced staffing at courts may stretch the time frames somewhat, these processes, at least for the present, continue as before. Where that time frame may cause harm to a beneficiary or in some cases, the assets, if the court deems such circumstances an emergency, a hearing to rush the appointment of a temporary fiduciary, called a “executor” or “special personal representative,” can be requested.
• Most financial activities can be conducted. With overnight shipping, and technologies such as scanning, secure e-mail, electronic funds transfers, and electronic document signatures, most financial transactions can be conducted virtually once the identities of the parties are established in a fashion compliant with the financial institution’s practices. Thus assets can be transferred to estate or trust accounts, sold and reinvested if desired in order to properly pay estate expenses and distribute funds to beneficiaries. Notarizations still require physical presence although there is a move afoot to accept signatures performed over a videoconference.
• Once appointed, electronic communications are vital. As a fiduciary, personal representatives and trustees must take special care to maintain transparency and good chains of communication with each other and the beneficiaries. In a typical administration, one or more introductory or status meetings may occur between co-fiduciaries and the attorney, some with beneficiaries present. Since these will not occur during this unprecedented time, most communication should be in writing. Email has become the standard, often with multiple co-recipients.
Need to speak to an attorney about issues your confronted with during the Pandemic, call our office 401-274-0300 for a no cost phone consultation.
Estate Planning Amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic has impacted every corner of the world at this point. As medical experts, financial advisors, and our colleagues that specialize in healthcare law, employment law, and other related areas are busy advising clients on the best course of action for the weeks and months ahead, we – as estate planners – also want to remind our clients and friends of some important considerations during these uncertain times.
At this point, we would simply promote the following actions to ensure that your estate planning affairs are in order:
(1) Review your existing documents. Make sure that you have copies (either paper or electronic) of your existing estate planning documents, and review them to confirm that they still reflect your wishes. If you cannot locate your documents, consider calling or emailing your estate planning attorney to obtain copies.
(2) Pinpoint any items that require attention sooner rather than later. As you review, take note of any major changes that may have occurred in your family since you last updated your estate plan. These might include child births, deaths, marriages, divorces, etc. And also consider whether the individuals that you previously appointed to serve as your agents are still appropriate.
(3) Follow up with your loved ones and advisors.
- Make sure that your loved ones know to contact your estate planning attorney in the event anything should happen to you. This includes your named executor (i.e. personal representative under your will, or trustee of your trust), guardian for your minor children, attorney-in-fact under your financial durable power of attorney, and patient advocate under your health care power of attorney.
- Consider reaching out to your financial advisor, insurance advisor, etc. to ensure that your beneficiary designations are up to date and discuss any new planning opportunities relative to your current financial status.
- If you require any medical attention in the near future, confirm that your medical provider has a copy of your patient advocate designation and is informed as to who you wish to have access to your confidential health information.
NOTE – If you do not already have an estate plan, now is as good of a time as any to consider the opportunity before you. Having a will/trust, a durable general power of attorney, and a healthcare power of attorney can certainly contribute to a healthy state of mind.