Relief for Seniors in the $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Bill
President Biden has signed the latest COVID-19 relief bill, which in addition to authorizing stimulus checks, is designed to provide assistance to seniors in a number of ways. The following are the provisions that most directly affect older Americans:
- Relief checks. The provision of the bill that most of us are familiar with is the stimulus payment. The bill provides for $1,400 direct payments to individuals earning up to $75,000 in annual income and couples with incomes up to $150,000. The payments phase out for higher earners, and there are no payments for individuals earning more than $80,000 a year or couples making more than $160,000. Eligible dependents, including adult dependents, also receive $1,400. People collecting Social Security, railroad retirement, or VA benefits will automatically receive the payment even if they don’t file a tax return. The checks will not affect eligibility for Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income as long as any amount that pushes recipients above the programs’ asset limits is spent within 12 months. For seniors in a nursing home, please be aware that the nursing home cannot seize your stimulus check – see our June 30, 2020 newsletter on this topic.
- Medicaid home care. The Act provides more than $12 billion in funding to expand Medicaid home and community-based waivers for one year. This funding will allow states to provide additional home-based long-term care, which could keep people from being forced into a nursing home. The additional money will also allow states to increase caregivers’ pay.
- Nursing homes. Nursing homes have been hit hard during the pandemic. The Act supports the deployment of strike teams to help nursing homes that have COVID-19 outbreaks. It also provides funds to improve infection control in nursing homes.
- Pensions. Many multi-employer pension plans are on the verge of collapse due to underfunding. The Act creates a system to allow plans that are insolvent to apply for grants in order to keep paying full benefits.
- Medical deductions. If you have a large number of medical expenses, you may be able to deduct some of them from your taxes, including long-term care and hospital expenses. The Act permanently lowers the threshold for deducting medical expenses. Taxpayers can deduct unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of their income. The threshold was lowered to 7.5 percent under the 2017 tax law, but was set to revert to 10 percent for some taxpayers in 2021.
- Older Americans Act. The relief bill provides funding to programs authorized under the Older Americans Act, including vaccine outreach, caregiver support, and the long-term care ombudsman program. It also directs funding for the Elder Justice Act and to improve transportation for older Americans and people with disabilities.
Ask the Attorney
Client: Does a will, leaving the marital home only to adopted children, supersede a second wife’s right to part of that home?
Emily Martin: This is a very common question from our clients who are in a second marriage or who have a blended family. In Virginia, you cannot disinherit a spouse. Even if a will does not provide for a spouse to inherit anything, there are certain marital claims that he or she can make. One of these claims is the elective share, which gives a spouse the right to make a claim to a percentage of their spouse’s estate. There are also other claims against the estate of up to $64,000 that the spouse has the option to make. If there are not enough assets in the estate to satisfy these claims and if the property was not jointly owned between the spouses, it is possible that real property could be sold to satisfy the spouse’s claims. However, making these claims is a legal process that requires court filings and other paperwork. There are also strict timelines in which these claims must be filed. I recommend that you seek the advice of an attorney as soon as possible to determine exactly what your interest in the estate is and how best to proceed.