Estate Planning Blog Articles

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homeownership and medicaid

Homeownership and Medicaid Can Be Problem

The challenges begin when homeowners don’t do any Medicaid planning and decide the best answer is simply to gift their home to their children. It doesn’t always work out well for the homeowners or their children, warns the article “Owning real estate without jeopardizing Medicaid paying for nursing home” from limaohio.com.

A key tax avoidance opportunity is usually missed, when real property is gifted outright. The IRS says that if someone owns real estate, when that person passes, the heirs may eliminate a large portion of the taxable gains, if the real estate ends up being sold by an heir for more than the original owner paid for the property.

Let’s walk through an example of how this works. Let’s say Terry buys a farm for $1,000. The cost to buy the farm is referred to as a “tax basis.”

If the family is planning for the possibility of nursing home costs, Terry might want to give that farm away to her children Ted and Zach. She needs to do it at least five years before she thinks she’ll need Medicaid to pay for long-term nursing care, because of a five-year lookback.

When Terry gifts the farm to Ted and Zach, the two children acquire Terry’s tax basis of $1,000. Ted gets $500 of the tax basic credit, and so does Zach.

The years go by and Ted wants to buy out Zach’s half of the farm. The farm is now worth $5,000. So, Ted pays Zach $2,500 for Zach’s half of the farm. Zach now has a tax basis of $500, which is not subject to tax. And Ted receives $2,000 more than his $500 tax basis, and Ted will need to pay capital gains on that $2,000 gain.

It could be handled smarter from a tax perspective. If Terry owns the farm when she dies, then Ted and Zach get the farm through her will, trust or whatever estate planning method is used. If the farm is worth $3,000 when Terry dies, then Ted and Zach will get a higher tax basis: $3,000 in total, or $1,500 each. By owning the farm when Terry dies, she gives them the opportunity to have their tax basis (and amount that won’t be taxed if they sell to each other or to anyone else) adjusted to the value of the property when Terry dies. In most cases, the value of real estate property is higher at the time of death than when it was purchased initially.

There’s another way to transfer ownership of the farm that works even better for everyone concerned. In this method, Terry continues to own the farm, helping Zach and Ted avoid taxes, and keeps the property out of her countable assets for Medicaid. The solution is for Terry to keep a specific type of life estate in the farm. This needs to be prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney, so that Terry won’t have to sell the farm if she eventually needs to apply for Medicaid for long term care.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you and your family navigate protecting your home and other assets, while benefiting from smart tax strategies.

Reference: limaohio.com (Nov. 7, 2020) “Owning real estate without jeopardizing Medicaid paying for nursing home”

power of attorney

Does My Business Need a Power of Attorney?

Some business owners may need a power of attorney (POA). However, what type would be of benefit the most is the question. This article looks at the types of power of attorney and in what circumstances a business owner may need each of them.

Entrepreneur’s recent article entitled “Does Your Business Need a Power Of Attorney?” reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) defines power of attorney as a legal document that permits a trusted agent the authority to act on your behalf. Accordingly, signing a power of attorney allows the business owner to authorize another person to conduct business in his stead. The person designated in the document is called the “agent” or sometimes the “attorney-in-fact.” There are three main types of power of attorney:

Financial Power of Attorney. This document allows the agent to deal with the financial responsibilities and functions of the “principal” (the person who signs the document), if the principal is unable to do so themselves. Some functions for the agent of a financial power of attorney include the following:

  • Delegation of the operation of your business
  • Hiring an attorney and making decisions in lawsuits
  • Filing and paying taxes
  • Conducting transactions with banks and other financial institutions
  • Making decisions on your investments and retirement plan
  • Entering into a contract
  • Purchasing of selling real estate or different types of property; and
  • Using your assets to pay for your living expenses.

Special Power of Attorney (or Limited Power of Attorney). A business owner may need to accomplish a task for the company, but she’s unable to be there because of other responsibilities. This document permits a particular agent to conduct business on her behalf, concerning a specific and clearly outlined event, like opening a bank account, settling a lawsuit, or signing a contract.

Healthcare Power of Attorney. An individual who is incapacitated and can’t communicate, can use this to permit an agent to make medical decisions on his behalf. Note that a healthcare power of attorney isn’t the same as a living will. A living will focuses on a person’s preferences for healthcare treatment, such as do-not-resuscitate and other religious or philosophical beliefs that they want to be respected. A healthcare power of attorney is more flexible and leaves the decisions regarding healthcare to the agent. A living will concerns end-of-life decisions only, where healthcare power of attorney applies in all medical situations.

Durable Power of Attorney. A POA usually becomes effective when a person is incapacitated and stops once they’re able to make their own decisions. However, a durable power of attorney or enduring power of attorney may be applied to any of the types mentioned above. As a result, the agent can make decisions on behalf of a business owner when they aren’t incapacitated.

A POA provides considerable protections that will help a business deal with regular operations, while the owner is unable to lead the company. If the business is an LLC or corporation, a power of attorney for the company may not be needed. However, it’s wise to have one for your own estate planning. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about the types of power of attorney and how they might help your business.

Reference: Entrepreneur (Nov. 3, 2020) “Does Your Business Need a Power Of Attorney?”

pandemic

Does Pandemic have an Impact on Financial Powers Of Attorney?

If you’re concerned about the consequences of contracting COVID-19, you’d typically create an advanced directive, a medical power of attorney and a HIPAA release to give authority to those you want to have access to your medical information. These documents are intended to both state your medical care wishes and specify who can make medical decisions for you, if you’re unable.

Forbes’s recent article entitled “If You Lose It, Don’t Lose It: Financial Powers Of Attorney In A Covid-19 World” says that sometimes the issue of money is lost in the confusion. If you’re in the hospital or otherwise unavailable, who do you want to take care of any of your immediate financial issues?

People frequently associate this issue with just writing checks, like paying the mortgage. If it’s deducted automatically, it should be okay, and the other bills can wait until they recover. However, some financial issues are planning-related, and those can’t wait, like in late December when you want to make a Roth IRA conversion but you’re in a hospital. You might also want to make a contribution to your favorite charity, since the CARES Act provides a $300 non-itemized charitable deduction. If you are incapacitated, you need a trusted agent who can make important financial decisions for you and execute them on your behalf.

A financial power of attorney (POA) is often the answer. It is separate from a medical POA but equally as important. Without a binding financial POA, your incapacity will have a major financial impact. A financial POA gives you the power to name an agent to act on your behalf, if you lose the physical or mental capacity to handle your own finances.

If you are worried about the financial risk related to a sudden impairment from an event, such as the coronavirus, ask an experienced estate planning attorney about creating a springing and durable POA. “Springing” means the power doesn’t trigger until you’ve lost legal capacity to handle your own finances. “Durable” means that your agent continues to retain the power to act on your behalf, until you either recover or die. This is the preferred approach because they retain control until something bad happens (causing it to “spring” into action) and then their agent maintains control, even if some unscrupulous individual attempts to hijack the process (proving the power is “durable”).

Note that a POA may not be recognized when it is presented to an individual or company. Financial institutions have been hesitant to accept a financial POA submitted by the principal’s agent because they’re concerned about liability if the POA turns out to be fraudulent, or if the agent acts contrary to the accountholder’s desires. Without the institution’s agreement, the incapacitated person’s plans won’t happen. However, many states have addressed this.

Many people are creating “just in case” estate planning documents to deal with the possibility of contracting COVID-19. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about creating a financial POA.

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 27, 2020) “If You Lose It, Don’t Lose It: Financial Powers Of Attorney In A Covid-19 World”

sean connery dementia

Scottish Actor Sean Connery May Have Had Dementia

The famous screen actor, Sean Connery, who was famous for portraying the original on-screen James Bond, passed away at his home in the Bahamas.

Yahoo News’s recent article entitled “Sean Connery widow reveals he had suffered from dementia” reported that Connery died peacefully in his sleep surrounded by family members, according to his widow Micheline Roquebrune.

“I was with him all the time and he just slipped away,” the 91-year-old told the London Daily Mail.

“He had dementia and it took its toll on him. He got his final wish to slip away without any fuss. It was no life for him. He was not able to express himself lately.”

Connery will be remembered at a private funeral ceremony, with a memorial event to be held later, according to a publicist. He was knighted in 2000 and won many awards during his decades-spanning career, including an Oscar, three Golden Globes and two Bafta awards.

However, it was his smooth, Scottish-accented portrayal of the suave licensed-to-kill spy 007 that earned him lasting worldwide fame and adoration. He was the first actor to say the unforgettable “Bond, James Bond.”

He made six official films as novelist Ian Fleming’s spy, giving what many still consider to be the definitive portrayal.

Former 007 actor Pierce Brosnan joined the flood of weekend tributes to the Scottish actor, who he said, “led the way for us all who followed in your iconic footsteps.”

“You were my greatest James Bond as a boy, and as a man who became James Bond himself, you cast a long shadow of cinematic splendor that will live on forever,” Brosnan added.

Connery was born in Edinburgh in 1930. He married French artist Roquebrune in 1974 after they met in Morocco in 1970.

They lived outside his native Britain for decades, previously owning a home in the Spanish resort of Marbella and then in the Bahamas.

“He was gorgeous, and we had a wonderful life together,” the Tunisian-born widow said. “He was a model of a man. It is going to be very hard without him. I know that. But it could not last forever and he went peacefully.”

Reference: Yahoo News (Nov. 1, 2020) “Sean Connery widow reveals he had suffered from dementia”

inheriting a mortgage

What Do I Do If Property I Just Inherited Has a Mortgage?

Bankrate’s recent article entitled “Does the home you inherited include a mortgage?’ explains that when a family member dies, there can be questions about wills, inheritances and how best to settle financial affairs. It can be a stressful time, and complicated, especially when real estate is a part of the equation. Let’s look at some specific situations and how to address them.

Inheriting a mortgage. In many instances, a person will inherit both a home and the mortgage that goes with it. If that’s the case, ask for help from an attorney who specializes in elder law or estate planning. Even though the borrower died, the mortgage still must be repaid. Therefore, if you’ve inherited it, you’ll have to decide how the loan and property will be handled. If you move into the home, you may be able to assume the mortgage and continue paying it. You might also think about a cash-out refinance and pay that way. You can also sell the home. Heirs have a good deal of leverage dealing with a mortgage in an estate situation thanks to federal law, which can help them assume an existing loan. You should ask your attorney about estate taxes and capital gains taxes from a sale.

Assuming a mortgage. Typically, if you’re assuming the loan, the lender will be willing to work with you. Mortgages frequently have a “due-on-sale” or “due-on-transfer” clause that requires full repayment of the loan, in the event of a change in ownership. In certain estate situations, federal law prevents the lender from calling the loan, even if it has such a clause. Surviving spouses also have special protections to ensure that they can keep an inherited home.

Inheriting a reverse mortgage. If the home involves a reverse mortgage or a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), your options vary according to the circumstances of the borrower who died. If you inherited a reverse mortgage from a parent, your options include the following:

  • Paying off or refinancing the balance and keeping the home
  • Selling the home for at least 95% of the appraised value; or
  • Agreeing to a deed in lieu of foreclosure.

There is a six-month window for the balance to be repaid. This can be extended, if the heir is actively trying to pay off the debt. If the reverse mortgage isn’t paid off after a year, the lender is required by HUD to begin the foreclosure process. This has negative connotations. However, it is a normal part of settling a reverse mortgage, once the last borrower or non-borrowing spouse passes away. If you’re a surviving spouse, and you’re on the reverse mortgage, nothing will change.

If the mortgage is underwater. If the value of the inherited home is less than the outstanding mortgage debt, the home has negative equity or is “underwater.” If the mortgage is a non-recourse loan (the borrower doesn’t have to pay more than the value of the home), the lender may have few options outside of foreclosure. The same usually applies for a reverse mortgage: the most that will ever have to be repaid, is the value of the home. The heirs are fully protected, if the home isn’t worth enough to pay off the entire HECM balance.

When there’s no will. If a borrower dies without a will, there will be more complications and expense when handling a home with a mortgage (or any other assets). Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney regarding your specific situation.

Reference: Bankrate (Oct. 22, 2020) “Does the home you inherited include a mortgage?’

delay claiming social security

Should I Delay in Claiming Social Security?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Waiting to File for Social Security Benefits Is Hard, but Payoff Is Sweet” asks you to imagine if, when you were a child, your mom baked your favorite pie and made you an offer. She could serve you a piece of pie right then and let you eat it. Alternatively, if you waited until after dinner, you’d get a bigger slice. Or, if you could wait until bedtime, your piece would be even larger. And not just that day, but for the rest of your life.

Every time you had pie for dessert, the size of your piece would be based on the decision you made that one day.

There are many justifications for taking the smaller piece of pie right away, when offered. Many people want to begin their retirement as soon as possible, and they want or need the Social Security income to do so. Some want to claim their benefits and invest the money to further grow their nest egg. Many people are concerned that the Social Security trust fund will be depleted before they get their share. Finally, there are some who just aren’t aware of how much bigger their monthly payment could be if they waited.

While you can get your benefits as early as 62, that choice, can mean a permanent reduction in benefits of up to 30% less than what you could receive by filing at your full retirement age (FRA). Retirees who file after their FRA receive a delayed retirement credit of 8% per year until they turn 70.

Admittedly, eight years (from 62 to 70) is a long time to wait to tap into this significant income stream. Most seniors would jump at the chance for more money, particularly as many baby boomers face these challenges that could put even the best-laid income plans to the test in retirement:

Longevity. The longer you live, the greater the chance that your savings will have to endure multiple financial storms, such as increased taxes, inflation and costly health care issues as you get older. The Social Security Administration estimates that the average 62-year-old woman born in 1958 can expect to live another 23½ years, and a man with the same birthdate can expect to live another 20⅔ years. That’s a long time to have to make your money last. However, if you maximize your Social Security benefits by earning delayed retirement credits, you’ll always have that guaranteed income.

Low interest rates. In the current low-interest environment, the return on “safe” investments, such as CDs, bonds, and money market accounts, won’t protect you from inflation. Thus, one of the best investments that retirees can make right now isn’t really an investment at all, but rather it’s growing their Social Security payments by delaying to take them.

Decline in employer pensions. The retirement savings system in the United States traditionally has been built on three pillars: Social Security, a workplace pension and individual savings. However, over the past two decades, many employers have stopped offering pensions. As a result, the full responsibility for retirement investing has been shifting to employees with defined contribution plans. However, 40.2% of older Americans now depend on Social Security alone for income in retirement. Only 6.8% receive income from a defined benefit pension, a defined contribution plan, and Social Security. Fidelity Investments also reports that the median 401(k) balance in the first half of 2019 was $62,000 for savers in the 60 to 69 age group.

Ask an elder law attorney who practices in Social Security matters to help you make some calculations to determine your “break-even” age, which is when you’d come out ahead by waiting instead of claiming early. If you haven’t already, sign up with the Social Security Administration to get an estimate of your retirement benefits at 62, 67, and 70, using their online benefits calculator.

If your objective is to land the biggest possible piece of pie — and you can manage it — waiting is the name of the game.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 21, 2020) “Waiting to File for Social Security Benefits Is Hard, but Payoff Is Sweet”

estate plan

Despite Pandemic, Many Still Don’t Have an Estate Plan

It’s true—many people still believe that they don’t have enough assets so they don’t need a will, or that their money will automatically go to a next of kin. Both of these beliefs are wrong. While the title of this CNBC article is “More people are creating wills amid the pandemic,” the story’s focus is on the fact that most Americans don’t have a will. If you belong to this group, here’s what happens when you die.

The state you live in has laws about who will receive your assets if you die without a will, known as intestacy. Let’s say you live in New York. Your surviving spouse and children will receive your assets. However, in Texas, your assets will be entered into the state’s intestacy probate process, and your relatives will divide up your assets. Want to be in charge of who inherits your property? Have a will created with an experienced estate attorney.

Young adults think they don’t need a will, but Covid-19 has taken the lives of many healthy, young people. Every adult over age 18 needs a will. If you don’t have one, your loved ones—even if it’s your parents—will inherit a legal mess that will take time and money to fix.

If you have children and no will, there’s no way to be sure who will raise your children. The court will decide. Choose your guardians, name them in your will and be sure to name additional choices just in case the first guardian can’t or won’t serve. You should also appoint someone to be in charge of your children’s money.

What if you had a will created 10 or twenty years ago? That’s another big mistake. Your life changes, the law changes, and so do relationships. Life insurance policies, retirement plans, and transfer-on-death instruments are all legally binding contracts. The last will you made will be used, and if you haven’t updated your will or other documents, then the old decisions will stand. Remember that contracts supersede wills, so no matter how much you don’t want your ex to receive your life insurance proceeds, failing to change that designation won’t help your second spouse. You should review and update all documents.

Doing it yourself is risky. You won’t know if your will is valid and enforceable, if you do it from an online template. Your heirs will have to fix things, which can be expensive. The cost of an estate plan depends on the complexity of your situation. You may only need a will, power of attorney and advance directive. You may also need trusts to pass property along with minimal taxes. An estate planning attorney will be able to give you an idea of how much your estate plan will cost.

Talking about death and planning for it is a difficult topic for everyone, but a well-planned estate plan is one of the most thoughtful gifts you can give to your loved ones.

Reference: CNBC (Oct. 5, 2020) “More people are creating wills amid the pandemic”

estate plan

Did Samsung’s Chairman Have an Estate Plan for his $20.7 Billion Fortune?

Samsung Electronics Co. Chairman Lee Kun-hee, South Korea’s richest man, had an estimated fortune of $20.7 billion. Most of this was his stakes in four Samsung units, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The country’s inheritance tax is as high as 60% on inherited shares for large shareholders and 50% on real estate and other assets. That could mean a tax bill of about $10 billion for Lee’s family.

Fortune’s recent article entitled “After Samsung chairman’s death, his heirs are facing a $10 billion tax bill” says that Lee’s heirs are unlikely to sell stock to finance the taxes.

Share sales can cause issues because they would reduce the family’s control over the company. Many choose to make the cash payment over five years. Cash can be prepared through means, such as dividends or salaries. That’s how Chairman Koo Kwang-mo, who took over the reins of LG Group in 2018 after his father’s death, is doing it. He and his family are paying their $817 million inheritance tax over five years.

Lee Kun-hee’s ownership included a 4% holding in the world’s largest producer of smartphones, televisions, and memory chips, as well as 21% of Samsung Life Insurance Co., which owns the second-biggest chunk of Samsung Electronics.

Lee’s only son, Jay, has been leading the company after a heart attack incapacitated his father in 2014. If he inherits all of his father’s shares in Samsung Electronics and Samsung Life Insurance, he may use dividends and financing from family members for the taxes. It’s also possible that the family will use personal financing.

The younger Lee has legal troubles from the controversial merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that led to his control of the group. Although he holds less than 1% in Samsung Electronics, through the merger, he secured a 17% control in Samsung C&T Corp., which in turn directly owns 5% of the tech company.

He’s awaiting a final ruling on a bribery case that sent him to prison in 2017. He is facing a separate trial on financial-fraud charges, including stock-price manipulation to facilitate his succession.

Jay denied any wrongdoing. He has made a personal apology for the recurring corruption scandals at Samsung and pledged not to hand down leadership to his children.

Reference: Fortune (Oct. 26, 2020) “After Samsung chairman’s death, his heirs are facing a $10 billion tax bill”

estate protection

Act Quickly to Protect an Estate

For most families, the process of estate administration or the probate of a will starts weeks after the death of a loved one.  However, before that time, there are certain steps that need to be taken immediately after death, according to a recent article “Protecting an estate requires swift action” from The Record-Courier. It is not always easy to keep a clear head and stay on top of these tasks but pushing them aside could lead to serious losses and possible liability.

The first step is to secure the deceased’s home, cars and personal property. The residence needs to be locked to prevent unauthorized access. It may be wise to bring in a locksmith, so that anyone who had been given keys in the past will not be able to go into the house. Cars should be parked inside garages and any personal property needs to be securely stored in the home. Nothing should be moved until the trust administration or probate has been completed. Access to the deceased’s digital assets and devices also need to be secured.

Mail needs to be collected and retrieved to prevent the risk of unauthorized removal of mail and identity theft. If there is no easy access to the mailbox, the post office needs to be notified, so mail can be forwarded to an authorized person’s address.

Estate planning documents need to be located and kept in a safe place. The person who has been named as the executor in the will needs to have those documents. If there are no estate planning documents or if they cannot be located, the family will need to work with an estate planning attorney. The estate may be subjected to a probate proceeding.

One of the responsibilities that most executors don’t know about, is that when a person dies, their will needs to be admitted to the court, regardless whether they had trusts. If the deceased left a will, the executor or the person who has possession of the will must deliver it to the court clerk. Failing to do so could result in large civil liability.

At least five and as many as ten original death certificates should be obtained. The executor will need them when closing accounts. As soon as possible, banks, financial institutions, credit card companies, pension plans, insurance companies and others need to be notified of the person’s passing. The Social Security Administration needs to be notified, so direct deposits are not sent to the person’s bank account. Depending on the timing of the death, these deposits may need to be returned. The same is true if the deceased was a veteran—the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) need to be notified. There may be funeral benefits or survivor benefits available.

It is necessary, even in a time of grief, to protect a loved one’s estate in a timely and thorough manner. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help through this process.

Reference: The Record-Courier (Oct. 17, 2020) “Protecting an estate requires swift action”

polar bear plunge and dementia

Could a Polar Bear Plunge Help with Dementia?

A “cold-shock” protein has been discovered in the blood of regular winter swimmers at London’s Parliament Hill Lido. The protein has been shown to retard the onset of dementia and even repair some of the damage it causes in mice, according to a report in the BBC’s recent article entitled “Could cold water hold a clue to a dementia cure?”

Professor Giovanna Mallucci, who runs the United Kingdom Dementia Research Institute’s Centre at the University of Cambridge, says the discovery could help scientists with new drug treatments that may help hold dementia at bay. The research, while encouraging, is at an early stage and focuses on the hibernation ability that all mammals retain, which is prompted by exposure to cold.

The link with dementia lies in the destruction and creation of synapses, which are the connections between cells in the brain. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s and other neuro-degenerative diseases, these brain connections are lost. Mallucci saw that brain connections are lost when hibernating animals, like bears, bed down for their winter sleep, but that roughly 20-30% of their synapses are culled as their bodies preserve precious resources for winter. When they awake in the spring, those connections are reformed.

The shock of entering cold water results in a significant increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which can cause heart attacks and strokes in those with underlying illnesses. This also creates a gasp reflex and rapid breathing, which can lead to drowning, if water is inhaled.

Don’t try a plunge without consulting a doctor.

When researching this treatment in mice, scientists found that levels of a “cold-shock” protein called RBM3 soared in the ordinary mice, but not in the others. This suggested RBM3 could be the key to the formation of new connections. Mallucci proved the link in a separate experiment which showed brain cell deaths in Alzheimer’s and prion disease could be prevented by artificially boosting RBM3 levels in mice. This was a major breakthrough in dementia research, and their findings were published in the scientific journal Nature.

Professor Mallucci contends that a drug which prompted the production of RBM3 might help slow—and possibly even partially reverse—the progress of some neuro-degenerative diseases in people. RBM3 hadn’t been seen in human blood, so the obvious next step was to find out whether the protein is present in humans.

It’s hard to get people to become hypothermic by choice, but Martin Pate and his group of Londoners who swim throughout the winter at the unheated open-air London Parliament Hill Lido pool voluntarily made themselves hypothermic on a regular basis, so he thought they’d be ideal subjects of a study.

The tests showed that a significant number of the swimmers had markedly elevated levels of RBM3. All of them become hypothermic, with core temperatures as low as 93.2F. A control group of Tai Chi participants who practice beside the pool but never actually swim, showed no increase in RBM3 levels nor had they experienced very low body temperatures.

The risks associated with getting cold outweigh any potential benefits, so cold water immersion isn’t a potential dementia treatment. The key is to find a drug that stimulates the production of the protein in humans and to show that it really does help delay dementia.

Reference: BBC (Oct. 19, 2020) “Could cold water hold a clue to a dementia cure?”