Monday, March 13, 2017
Common Estate Planning Mistakes Regarding Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)
For many people, retirement savings accounts are among the largest assets they have to bequeath to their children and grandchildren in their estate plans. Sadly, without professional and personally tailored advice about how best to include IRAs in one’s estate plan, there may be a failure to take advantage of techniques that will maximize the amount of assets that will be available for future generations.
Failure to Update Contingent Beneficiaries
Assets in an IRA account usually transfer automatically to the named beneficiaries upon the death of the account holder, outside of the probate process. If the account holder’s desired beneficiaries change, due to marriage, divorce, or other major life events, it is critically important to update the named beneficiaries as quickly as possible to prevent the asset from passing to an outdated beneficiary. When updating beneficiaries, account holders should not neglect contingent beneficiaries – those individuals named to receive the asset if the primary named beneficiary is already deceased when the account holder dies.
Example: Sarah’s IRA documents name her husband, Harold, as the primary beneficiary of her IRA. The contingent beneficiary is Harold’s son, George, from Harold’s first marriage. Sarah and Harold divorce. Harold dies. If Sarah dies before changing her IRA beneficiaries, George will receive the IRA. This may no longer be the result Sarah would have wanted.
Failure to Consider a Trust as the Contingent Beneficiary of an IRA
There are three main advantages of naming a trust as the contingent beneficiary of your IRA:
- It avoids the problem described above of having incorrect contingent beneficiaries named at death.
- It protects the IRA if the desired beneficiary is a minor, has debt or marital troubles, or is irresponsible with money.
- It protects the IRA from intentional or unintentional withdrawal.
Since 2005, the IRS has allowed a type of trust created specifically to be the beneficiary of an IRA. The IRA Beneficiary Trust is also known as an IRA trust, an IRA stretch trust, an IRA protection trust, or a standalone IRA trust.
The main advantage of using an IRA Beneficiary Trust instead of a standard revocable living trust is that the IRA trust can restrict distributions to ensure compliance with tax rules and minimum distribution requirements – thus maximizing the amount of tax-free growth of the investments.
Another advantage is that the IRA stretch trust has a framework that allows it to be structured in a way that guarantees protection of the distributions from the IRA as well as protection of the principal of the IRA. When you first establish the IRA protection trust, you structure the trust as either a conduit trust or an accumulation trust. A conduit trust will pass the required minimum distributions directly to your named beneficiaries, maximizing the tax deferral benefits. An accumulation trust passes the required minimum distributions into another trust over which a named trustee has discretion to accumulate the funds, resulting in greater asset protection for the benefit of the beneficiary.
During your lifetime, the IRS allows you to switch between the conduit trust and accumulation trust for each of your beneficiaries, as circumstances change. Furthermore, you may name a “trust protector” who may change the type of trust one last time after your death. This change may be made on a beneficiary-by-beneficiary basis, so that some of your intended heirs have accumulation trusts for their portion of the IRA and others have conduit trusts.
IRA Beneficiary Trusts are complicated legal documents with intricate IRS rules and tremendous implications for your family’s wealth accumulation for future generations. It is wise to seek advice specific to your family’s unique circumstances when considering the establishment of this powerful type of trust.
Monday, January 30, 2017
Advance Planning Can Help Relieve the Worries of Alzheimer’s Disease
The “ostrich syndrome” is part of human nature; it’s unpleasant to observe that which frightens us. However, pulling our heads from the sand and making preparations for frightening possibilities can provide significant emotional and psychological relief from fear.
When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, more Americans fear being unable to care for themselves and burdening others with their care than they fear the actual loss of memory. This data comes from an October 2012 study by Home Instead Senior Care, in which 68 percent of 1,200 survey respondents ranked fear of incapacity higher than the fear of lost memories (32 percent).
Advance planning for incapacity is a legal process that can lessen the fear that you may become a burden to your loved ones later in life.
What is advance planning for incapacity?
Under the American legal system, competent adults can make their own legally binding arrangements for future health care and financial decisions. Adults can also take steps to organize their finances to increase their likelihood of eligibility for federal aid programs in the event they become incapacitated due to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
The individual components of advance incapacity planning interconnect with one another, and most experts recommend seeking advice from a qualified estate planning or elder law attorney.
What are the steps of advance planning for incapacity?
Depending on your unique circumstances, planning for incapacity may include additional steps beyond those listed below. This is one of the reasons experts recommend consulting a knowledgeable elder law lawyer with experience in your state.
- Write a health care directive, or living will. Your living will describes your preferences regarding end of life care, resuscitation, and hospice care. After you have written and signed the directive, make sure to file copies with your health care providers.
- Write a health care power of attorney. A health care power of attorney form designates another person to make health care decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. You may be able to designate your health care power of attorney in your health care directive document, or you may need to complete a separate form. File copies of this form with your doctors and hospitals, and give a copy to the person or persons whom you have designated.
- Write a financial power of attorney. Like a health care power of attorney, a financial power of attorney assigns another person the right to make financial decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacity. The power of attorney can be temporary or permanent, depending on your wishes. File copies of this form with all your financial institutions and give copies to the people you designate to act on your behalf.
- Plan in advance for Medicaid eligibility. Long-term care payment assistance is among the most important Medicaid benefits. To qualify for Medicaid, you must have limited assets. To reduce the likelihood of ineligibility, you can use certain legal procedures, like trusts, to distribute your assets in a way that they will not interfere with your eligibility. The elder law attorney you consult with regarding Medicaid eligibility planning can also advise you on Medicaid copayment planning and Medicaid estate recovery planning.
Monday, October 24, 2016
Things to Consider When Picking an Executor
The role of an executor is to effectuate a deceased person’s wishes as declared in a will after he or she has passed on. The executor’s responsibilities include the distribution of assets according to the will, the maintenance of assets until the will is settled, and the paying of estate bills and debts. An old joke says that you should choose an enemy to perform the task because it is such a thankless job, even though the executor may take a percentage of the estate’s assets as a fee. The following issues should be considered when choosing an executor for one's estate.
Competency: The executor of an estate will be going through financial and legal documents and transferring documents from the testator to the beneficiaries. If there are legal proceedings, the executor must make all necessary court appearances. There is no requirement that a testator have any financial or legal training, but familiarity with these areas does avoid the intimidation felt by lay people, and potentially saves money on professional fees.
Trustworthiness: The signature of an executor is equivalent to that of the testator of an estate. The executor has full control over all of an estate’s assets. He or she will be required to go through all of the papers of the deceased to confirm what assets are available to be distributed. The temptation to transfer assets into the executor's own name always exists, particularly when there is a large estate. It is important to choose a person with integrity who will resist this temptation. It makes sense to utilize an individual who is an heir to fill the role to alleviate this concern.
Availability: The work of collecting rents, maintaining property, and paying debts can take more than a few hours a week. Selecting an executor with significant obligations to work or family may cause problems if he or she does not have the time available to devote to the task. If an executor must travel great distances to address issues that arise, there will be more of a time commitment necessary, not to mention greater expenses for the estate.
Family dynamics: Selection of the wrong person to act as executor can create resentment and hostility among an estate’s heirs. A testator should be aware of how family members interact with one another and avoid picking someone who may provoke conflict. Even the perception of impropriety can lead to a lawsuit, which will serve to take money out of the estate’s coffers and delay the legitimate distribution of the estate.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
What is being done to stop elder abuse in nursing homes?
As our society ages, more elders are becoming the victims of elder abuse, whether physical, emotional or financial. Now the U.S. Department of Justice has initiated a program to fight the abuse of seniors who are patients in nursing homes.
What is Nursing Home Abuse?
While many nursing homes provide quality care to their patients, there are growing reports of the mistreatment of elders, often referred to as nursing home abuse.
Read more . . .
Monday, August 15, 2016
Joint Bank Accounts and Medicaid Eligibility
Like most governmental benefit programs, there are many myths surrounding Medicaid and eligibility for benefits. One of the most common myths is the belief that only 50% of the funds in a jointly-owned bank account will be considered an asset for the purposes of calculating Medicaid eligibility.
Medicaid is a needs-based program that is administered by the state. Therefore, many of its eligibility requirements and procedures vary across state lines. Generally, when an applicant is an owner of a joint bank account the full amount in the account is presumed to belong to the applicant. Regardless of how many other names are listed on the account, 100% of the account balance is typically included when calculating the applicant’s eligibility for Medicaid benefits.
Why would the state do this? Often, these jointly held bank accounts consist solely of funds contributed by the Medicaid applicant, with the second person added to the account for administrative or convenience purposes, such as writing checks or discussing matters with bank representatives. If a joint owner can document that both parties have contributed funds and the account is truly a “joint” account, the state may value the account differently. Absent clear and convincing evidence, however, the full balance of the joint bank account will be deemed to belong to the applicant.
Monday, July 25, 2016
Estate Planning: The Medicaid Asset Protection Trust
The irrevocable Medicaid Asset Protection Trust has proven to be a highly effective estate planning tool for many older Americans. There are many factors to consider when deciding whether a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is right for you and your family. This brief overview is designed to give you a starting point for discussions with your loved ones and legal counsel.
A Medicaid Asset Protection Trust enables an individual or a married couple to transfer some of their assets into a trust, to hold and manage the assets throughout their lifetime. Upon their deaths, the remainder of the assets will be transferred to the heirs in accordance with the provisions of the trust.
This process is best explained by an example. Let’s say Mr. and Mrs. Smith, both retired, own stocks and savings accounts valued at $300,000. Their current living expenses are covered by income from these investments, plus Social Security and their retirement benefits. Should either one of them ever be admitted to a skilled nursing facility, the Smiths likely will not have enough money left over to cover living and medical expenses for the rest of their lives.
Continuing the above example, the Smiths can opt to transfer all or a portion of their investments into a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust. Under the terms of the trust, all investment income will continue to be paid to the Smiths during their lifetimes. Should one of them ever need Medicaid coverage for nursing home care, the income would then be paid to the other spouse. Upon the deaths of both spouses, the trust is terminated and the remaining assets are distributed to the Smiths’ children or other heirs as designated in the trust. As long as the Smiths are alive, their assets are protected and they enjoy a continued income stream throughout their lives.
However, the Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is not without its pitfalls. Creation of such a trust can result in a period of ineligibility for benefits under the Medicaid program. The length of time varies, according to the value of the assets transferred and the date of the transfer. Following expiration of the ineligibility period, the assets held within the trust are generally protected and will not be factored in when calculating assets for purposes of qualification for Medicaid benefits. Furthermore, transferring assets into an irrevocable Medicaid Asset Protection Trust keeps them out of both spouses’ reach for the duration of their lives.
Deciding whether a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is right for you is a complex process that must take into consideration many factors regarding your assets, income, family structure, overall health, life expectancy, and your wishes regarding how property should be handled after your death. An experienced elder law or Medicaid attorney can help guide you through the decision making process.
Monday, June 6, 2016
There are certain considerations that should be kept in mind for those with chronic illnesses. Before addressing this issue, there should be some clarification as to the definition of "chronically ill." There are at least two definitions of chronically ill. The first is likely the most common meaning, which is an illness that a person may live with for many years. Diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis C and asthma are some of the more familiar chronic illnesses. Contrast that with a legal definition of chronic illness which usually means that the person is unable to perform at least two activities of daily living such as eating, toileting, transferring, bathing and dressing, or requires considerable supervision to protect from crisis relating to health and safety due to severe impairment concerning mind, or having a level of disability similar to that determined by the Social Security Administration for disability benefits. Having said all of that, the estate planning such a person may undertake will likely be similar to that of a healthy person, but there will likely be a higher sense of urgency and it will be much more "real" and less "hypothetical."
Most healthy individuals view the estate planning they establish as not having any applicability for years, perhaps even decades. Whereas a chronically ill person more acutely appreciates that the planning he or she does will have real consequences in his or her life and the life of loved ones. Some of the most important planning will center around who the person appoints as his or her health care decision maker and also who is appointed to handle financial affairs. A will and/or revocable living trust will play a central role in the person's planning as well. Care should also be taken to address possible Medicaid planning benefits. A consultation with an estate planning and elder law attorney is critical to ensuring all necessary planning steps are contemplated and eventually implemented.
Monday, May 30, 2016
There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not to implement Medicaid planning. If you’re in good health, now would be the prime time to do this planning. The main reason is that any Medicaid planning may entail using an irrevocable trust, or perhaps gifts to your children, which would incur a five-year look back for Medicaid qualification purposes. The use of an irrevocable trust to receive these gifts would provide more protection and in some cases more control for you.
As an example, if you were to gift assets directly to a child, that child could be sued or could go through a divorce, and those assets could be lost to a creditor or a divorcing spouse even though the child had intended to hold those assets intact in case they needed to be returned to you. If instead, you had used an irrevocable trust to receive the gifted assets, those assets would not have been considered the child’s and therefore would not have been lost to the child’s creditor or a divorcing spouse. You need to understand that doing this type of planning, and using the irrevocable trust, may mean that those assets are not available to you and therefore you need to be comfortable with that structure.
Depending upon the size of your estate, and your sources of income, perhaps you have sufficient assets to pay for your own care for quite some time. You should work closely with an attorney knowledgeable about Medicaid planning as well as a financial planner that can help identify your sources of income should you need long-term care. Also, you should look into whether or not you could qualify for long-term care insurance, and how much the premiums would be on that type of insurance.
Monday, May 9, 2016
Do I Really Need Advance Directives for Health Care?
Many people are confused by advance directives for health care. They are unsure what type of directives are available. and whether or not they need need directives at all, especially if they are young. There are several types of advance directives. One is a living will, which communicates what type of life support and medical treatments, such as ventilators or a feeding tube, you wish to receive. Another type is called a health care power of attorney or health care proxy. In a health care power of attorney, you name another person to make health care decisions for you in the event are unable to do so for yourself. A third type of advance directive for health care is a do not resuscitate order or a DNR. A DNR is a request that you not receive CPR if your heart stops beating or you stop breathing. Depending on the laws in your state, the health care form you execute could include all three types of health care directives, or you may do each individually.
If you are 18 or over, it’s time to establish your health care directives. Although no one thinks they will be in a medical situation requiring a directive at such a young age, it happens every day in the United States. People of all ages are involved in tragic accidents that could not be foreseen which result in life support being used. If you plan in advance, you can make sure you receive the type of medical care you wish, and you can avoid a lot of heartache for your family, who may be forced to guess what you would want done.
Many people do not want to execute health care directives because of some common misperceptions about them. People are often frightened to name someone to make health care decisions for them, because they fear they will give up the right to make decisions for themselves. However, an individual always has the right, if he or she is competent, to revoke the directive or make his or her own decisions. Some also fear they will not be treated if they have a health care directive. This is also a common myth – the directive simply informs caregivers of the person you designate to make health care decisions and the type of treatment you’d like to receive in various situations. Planning ahead can ensure that your treatment preferences are carried out while providing some peace of mind to your loved ones who are in a position to direct them.
Monday, April 25, 2016
Senior Citizens Comprise Growing Demographic of Bankruptcy Filers
It’s called your “golden years” but for many seniors and baby boomers, there is no gold and retirement savings are too often insufficient to maintain even basic living standards of retirees. However, baby boomers are the fastest growing age group filing for bankruptcy. And even for those who have not yet filed for bankruptcy, a lack of retirement savings greatly troubles many who face their final years with fear and uncertainty.
Another study, conducted by Financial Engines revealed that nearly half of all baby boomers fear they will be in the poor house after retirement. Adding insult to injury, this anxiety also discourages many from taking the necessary steps to establish and implement a clear, workable financial plan. So instead, they find themselves with mounting credit card debt, and a shortfall when it comes time to pay the bills.
In fact, one in every four baby boomers have depleted their savings during the recession and nearly half face the prospect of running out of money after they retire. With the depletion of their savings, many seniors are resorting to the use of credit cards to maintain their standard of living. This is further exacerbated by skyrocketing medical costs, and the desire to lend a helping hand to adult children, many of whom are also under financial distress. These circumstances have led to a dramatic increase in the number of senior citizens finding themselves in financial trouble and turning to the bankruptcy courts for relief.
Whether filing for bankruptcy relief under a Chapter 7 liquidation, or a Chapter 13 reorganization, senior citizens face their own hurdles. Unlike many younger filers, senior citizens tend to have more equity in their homes, and less opportunity to increase their incomes. The lack of well-paying job prospects severely limits older Americans’ ability to re-establish themselves financially following a bankruptcy, especially since their income sources are typically fixed while their expenses continue to increase.
Monday, April 11, 2016
Issues to Consider When Gifting to Grandchildren
Many grandparents who are financially stable love the idea of making gifts to their grandchildren. However, they are usually not aware of the many issues related to what many consider to be a simple gift. If you are considering making a significant gift to a grandchild, you should consult with a qualified attorney to guide you through the legal and tax issues that are involved.
Making a Lifetime Gift or a Bequest: Before making a gift, you should consider whether you want to make the gift during your lifetime or leave the gift in your will. If you make the gift as a bequest in your will, you will not experience the joy of seeing your grandchild’s appreciation and use of the gift. However, there’s always the possibility that you will need the money to live on during your lifetime, and in reality, once a gift is made it cannot be taken back. Also, if you anticipate needing Medicaid or other government programs to pay for a nursing home or other benefits at some point in your life, any gifts you make in the prior five years can be considered as part of your assets when determining your eligibility.
What Form Gift Should Take: You may consider making a gift outright to a grandchild. However, once such a gift is made, you give up control over how the funds can be used. If your grandchild decides to purchase a brand-new sports car or take an extravagant vacation, you will have no legal right to stop the grandchild. The grandchild’s parents could also in some cases access the money without your approval.
You could consider making a gift under the Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) or the Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA), depending on which state you live in. The accounts are easy to open, but once the grandchild reaches the age of majority, he or she will have unfettered access to the funds. You could also consider depositing money into a 529 plan, which is specifically designed for education purposes. Finally, you could consider establishing a trust with an estate planning attorney, which can be more expensive to set up, but can be customized to fit your needs. Such a trust can provide for spendthrift, divorce and creditor protection while allowing for more flexibility for expenditures such as education or purchase of a first home.
Tax Consequences: If you have a large estate, giving gifts to grandchildren may be a great way to get money out of your estate in order to reduce your future estate tax liability. In 2016, a single person can pass $5.45 million at death free of estate tax, and a couple can pass a combined $10 million without paying estate taxes. In addition, a person can give $14,000 in 2016 to any number of individuals without incurring any gift taxes. A grandparent with 10 grandchildren could give $140,000 per year to all grandchildren (and a married couple could give $280,000), thereby removing that property from his or her estate.