Long-term care planning
Long-term care costs are a threat to family farms. In fact, we predict that long-term care costs are the biggest financial threat to farm families, even more so than federal estate taxes. That’s because long-term care can affect every farm--and when cash or insurance runs out, farm assets may have to be sold to pay for long-term care. With an increasing elderly population and rising health care costs, the financial pressure of long-term care on family farm succession will probably grow in future years.
What can farm families do to protect farm assets from the risk of long-term care? Our latest publication by attorney Robert Moore, Long-Term Care and the Farm, addresses this question. The publication begins with an important first step: understanding long-term care risk. What is the chance that a farmer will require long-term care, what kind of care is most common, and what how much will it cost? Robert presents data and statistics that help us predict the expected type, length, and costs of long-term care services a farmer might require.
Once we assess long-term care risk, the next important question is how to pay for long-term care while keeping farm assets secure. Robert explains how Medicare and Medicaid programs can apply to long-term care costs. He then presents several legal strategies to mitigate long-term care risk and protect farm assets. The guide wraps up with a process a farm family can follow to assess long-term care risk for their individual situation.
It's possible to keep family farmland and the family farm businesses safe from the risk of long-term care. If long-term care is a concern for your farm family, be sure to read this important new publication and talk with an agricultural attorney about protection strategies. The publication is available at no cost through our funding partnership with the National Agricultural Law Center and the USDA National Agricultural Library. Read Long-Term Care and the Farm here.
Long-Term Care (LTC) costs can present a significant threat to the viability of farm operations and keeping farmland with the family. Fortunately, there are a few strategies that can help mitigate the risk of LTC costs. Before we can know which strategy may be appropriate, assessing the true nature of the LTC risk is critical.
The risk assessment looks at the potential costs of LTC and the ability of the farm to pay for those costs. Paying LTC costs is a function of available income and assets that can be liquidated to pay for LTC costs not covered by income. Generally, the assumption is that farmers will first use savings to pay LTC costs not covered by income, then non-real estate farm assets and then lastly real estate. That is, the land is the last asset that a farmer will typically spend to pay for LTC costs.
To start the assessment, any coverage from LTC insurance policies should be calculated. That is, to what extent will any LTC insurance payments cover LTC costs? Also, keep in mind that most LTC policies have a term limit which should be taken into consideration. Only LTC costs not covered by insurance payments will need to be further addressed.
Next, a realistic forecast should be made regarding available income. It is important to keep in mind that if someone is receiving LTC, there is a good chance they will not be able to operate a farm. So, income should probably be based more on potential retirement income than income from an operating farm or wages. All available sources of income should be included such as retirement accounts, investments, land rents, and the sale of operating assets. The income forecast needs to be based on after-tax income.
The income forecast is then compared to potential LTC costs. The easiest, and most conservative comparison is between income and nursing home costs. The most expensive type of LTC is a nursing home, so using nursing home costs is a worst-case scenario. The first question becomes: is income adequate to cover potential LTC costs?
If there is adequate income to pay for LTC costs, other assets are not at risk. Additionally, no further LTC planning likely needs done. Assets are only at risk to LTC when income is inadequate to cover the costs.
For many farms, income alone will not pay for LTC costs. In these situations, the next step is to determine how long savings will cover the deficiency. By dividing the available savings by the income deficiency, we can determine how many years of LTC will be covered by savings. If the savings will cover average LTC costs, then all remaining assets are likely protected.
Consider the following example. Joe is unmarried and a farmer. He has no LTC insurance. He forecasts his retirement income to be $50,000 after taxes. He has $500,000 in savings and investments, $500,000 in machinery and equipment and $2,000,0000 in land. He assumes that a nursing home will cost $100,000/year. His income is $50,000 short of covering the nursing home bill. He will need to use his savings to cover the deficiency. He can pay for ten years of nursing home costs before his savings is depleted.
The average male will require about 2.2 years of LTC. Joe can pay for almost five times the average stay by using income and savings. Joe’s risk analysis shows that if he is willing to use his savings, his farm assets are at low risk of being consumed for LTC costs. It is unlikely that Joe will need more than ten years of LTC.
Many farms do not have much savings or investments as all the money goes back into the farm. In these situations, operating assets may need to be liquidated to pay for LTC. Like the income forecast, available operating assets should be valued as after-tax.
Consider the same example as above but Joe only has $50,000 in savings. In this scenario, his savings will only pay for one year of LTC. After that, he will need to sell machinery to help pay for his care. The machinery will pay for ten years of care. In this risk analysis, Joe’s savings and machinery are at risk to LTC costs. However, his land is likely safe unless Joe requires more than ten years of nursing home care, which is unlikely.
In this situation, Joe may decide that he is not willing to risk his machinery and transfers it to an irrevocable trust or elects some other strategy to protect it from LTC costs. If he protects his machinery, he will also need to do the same for his land.
If income, savings and operating assets are insufficient to cover LTC costs, then land is at risk. As stated above, this is almost always the asset most important to farmers and the asset requiring the most protection. If the risk analysis shows that the land is likely at risk to LTC costs, farmers will often take action to protect the land. Protecting the land may include gifting to heirs or transferring to an irrevocable trust.
Using the same example again, except Joe quit farming several years ago and does not own any machinery. Using his savings, he can only pay for one year of LTC before his land is at risk. Joe decides to gift his land to his children to avoid having to spend it down for LTC. Joe decided upon an aggressive LTC plan due to his land being exposed to significant risk from LTC.
The examples above use a relatively simple scenario using a single person to explain the concept of risk assessment. For married couples, the assessment is more complicated because we now have the possibility of two people having LTC costs. Additionally, not all income can be allocated to LTC if one spouse remains at home with continuing living needs. The concept of the risk assessment is the same for a single person and married persons, but the actual assessment is more complex for married people.
Until a risk assessment is performed, it is difficult to know what strategy to implement. When income and/or savings is adequate to cover many years of LTC, there may not be a need for aggressive LTC planning. If income and savings will only cover LTC for a short period of time, aggressive planning may be needed to protect assets.
An attorney familiar with LTC issues can be helpful with the risk assessment. Before transferring assets or implementing the plan, an attorney should be consulted. LTC planning can be complicated and technical. Implementing the wrong plan can make things even worse. A small investment in legal fees is worthwhile to be sure your LTC plan is the correct plan for your farm.