Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Top 10 Success Tips for Estate Planning

Unless you’ve done the planning, assets may not be distributed according to your wishes and loved ones may not be taken care of after your death. These are just two reasons to make sure you have an estate plan, according to the recent article titled “Estate Planning 101: 10 Tips for Success” from the Maryland Reporter.

Create a list of your assets. This should include all of your property, real estate, liquid assets, investments and personal possessions. With this list, consider what you would like to happen to each item after your death. If you have many assets, this process will take longer—consider this a good thing. Don’t neglect digital assets. The goal of a careful detailed list is to avoid any room for interpretation—or misinterpretation—by the courts or by heirs.

Meet with an estate planning attorney to create wills and trusts. These documents dictate how your assets are distributed after your death. Without them, the laws of your state may be used to distribute assets. You also need a will to name an executor, the person responsible for carrying out your instructions.

Your will is also used to name a guardian, the person who will raise your children if they are orphaned minors.

Who is the named beneficiary on your life insurance policy? This is the person who will receive the death benefit from your policy upon your death. Will this person be the guardian of your minor children? Do you prefer to have the proceeds from the policy used to fund a trust for the benefit of your children? These are important decisions to be made and memorialized in your estate plan.

Make your wishes crystal clear. Legal documents are often challenged if they are not prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney or if they are vaguely worded. You want to be sure there are no ambiguities in your will or trust documents. Consider the use of “if, then” statements. For example, “If my husband predeceases me, then I leave my house to my children.”

Consider creating a letter of intent or instruction to supplement your will and trusts. Use this document to give more detailed information about your wishes, from funeral arrangements to who you want to receive a specific item. Note this document is not legally binding, but it may avoid confusion and can be used to support the instructions in your will.

Trusts may be more important than you think in estate planning. Trusts allow you to take assets out of your probate estate and have these assets managed by a trustee of your choice, who distributes assets directly to beneficiaries. You don’t have to have millions to benefit from a trust.

List your debts. This is not as much fun as listing assets, but still important for your executor and heirs. Mortgage payments, car payments, credit cards and personal loans are to be paid first out of estate accounts before funds can be distributed to heirs. Having this information will make your executor’s tasks easier.

Plan for digital assets. If you want your social media accounts to be deleted or emails available to a designated person after you die, you’ll need to start with a list of the accounts, usernames, passwords, whether the platform allows you to designate another person to have access to your accounts and how you want your digital assets handled after death. This plan should be in place in case of incapacity as well.

How will estate taxes be paid? Without tax planning properly done, your legacy could shrink considerably. In addition to federal estate taxes, some states have state estate taxes and inheritance taxes. Talk with your estate planning attorney to find out what your estate tax obligations will be and how to plan strategically to pay the taxes.

Plan for Long Term Care. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 70% of Americans will need some type of long-term care during their lifetimes. Some options are private LTC insurance, government programs and self-funding.

The more planning done in advance, the more likely your loved ones will know what to do if you become incapacitated and know what you wanted when you die.

Resource: Maryland Reporter (Sep. 27, 2022) “Estate Planning 101: 10 Tips for Success”

How Does Medicaid Count Assets?

For seniors and their families, figuring out how Medicaid works usually happens when an emergency occurs, and things have to be done in a hurry. This is when expensive mistakes happen. Understanding how Medicaid counts assets, which determines eligibility, is better done in advance, says the article “It’s important to understand how Medicaid counts your resources” from The News-Enterprise.

Medicaid is available to people with limited income and assets and is used most commonly to pay for long-term care in nursing homes. This is different from Medicare, which pays for some rehabilitation services, but not for long-term care.

Eligibility is based on income and assets. If you are unable to pay for care in full, you will need to pay nearly all of your income towards care and only then will Medicaid cover the rest. Assets are counted to determine whether you have non-income sources to pay for care.

Married people are treated differently than individuals. A married couple’s assets are counted in total, regardless of whether the couple owns assets jointly or individually. The assets are then split, with each spouse considered to own half of the assets for counting purposes only. Married couples have some additional asset exemptions as well.

Not all resources are considered countable. Prepaid funeral expenses, a car used to transport the person in the care family and qualified retirement accounts may be exempt from Medicaid’s countable asset limits.

For married couples, their residence for a “Community Spouse”—the spouse still living at home, and a large sum of liquid assets, are also excluded. Many non-countable assets are very specific to the individual situation or current events. For example, stimulus checks were exempt assets, but only for a limited time.

Medicaid sets a “snapshot” date to determine asset balances because some assets change daily. For unmarried individuals, all asset protections and spend-downs must happen prior to submitting the application to Medicaid. A detailed explanation must be included, especially if any assets were transferred within five years of the application.

For married couples, a Resource Assessment Request should be submitted to Medicaid before any action is taken. This document details all resources Medicaid will count and specifies exactly how much of these resources must be “spent down” by the institutionalized spouse for eligibility.

In many cases, assets are preserved by turning the countable asset into a non-countable income stream to the spouse remaining at home.

Medicaid application is a complicated process and should be started as soon as it becomes clear that a person will need to enter a facility. Understanding options early in the process makes it more likely that property and assets can be preserved, especially for the spouse who remains at home.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Oct. 5, 2021) “It’s important to understand how Medicaid counts your resources”

How to Avoid Medicaid Estate Recovery

Medicaid is a government program that helps seniors and others pay for long term care. However, it’s not always free, explains the article “What Is Medicaid Estate Recovery?” from AOL.com. The Medicaid Estate Recovery Program (MERP) is used by states to recover costs from estates with funds. The goal of Medicaid estate recovery is to make the program affordable for the government, but it can have a severe impact on the beneficiaries of Medicaid recipients. An estate planning elder law attorney should be contacted, if you believe you or a loved one may need Medicaid.

Seniors are eligible for Medicare when they turn 65. This program pays for many healthcare expenses, but not for long-term care in a nursing home. Medicaid is used when someone does not have long term care insurance or enough money to pay for long-term care out of pocket. Medicaid can also be used for long-term or nursing home care, if steps have been taken to protect assets. This usually includes strategies, like trusts and Medicaid Asset Protection Trusts (MAPT).

A federal law passed in 1993 (the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) requires states to attempt to seek reimbursement from a Medicaid beneficiary’s estate after they have died. Some of the costs that the state will try to recover include:

  • Nursing home costs
  • Home and community-based services
  • Medical services received through a hospital where the recipient is a long-term care patient
  • Prescription drug services for long-term care recipient

The recovery program lets Medicaid pursue any eligible assets owned by the estate. While this depends upon where you live, any assets that are part of the probate estate could be attached, including:

  • Bank accounts
  • Your home or other real estate
  • Vehicles or other real property

In addition, some states allow Medicaid to recover assets that are not subject to probate, including jointly held accounts, Payable-On-Death (POD) bank accounts, real estate owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, living trusts and any other assets that the Medicaid recipient had a legal interest in.

An estate planning elder care attorney in your state will know what types of assets your state tends to pursue and will help you understand what can and cannot be used for Medicaid benefit recovery.

Note that while Medicaid cannot take the primary residence while the recipient is still living, they can place a lien on the home. If the recipient passes away and a beneficiary inherits the home, they will not be able to sell the property until the lien has been satisfied.

For beneficiaries, Medicaid recovery means a smaller inheritance. However, that’s not the only thing to be mindful of. There are laws known as “filial responsibility laws” that allow healthcare providers to sue the children of long-term care recipients to recover nursing care costs. This is not commonly done as of this writing, but the costs of COVID may change this in the near future.

Strategic planning can help you or loved ones avoid the financial impact of Medicaid estate recovery. If you are eligible and can afford to buy a long-term care policy, that may help to cover most of the cost of care. Another option is to remove as many assets from the probate process as possible. An estate planning attorney will be able to help you create a plan to protect your assets.

Reference: AOL.com (February 5, 2021) “What Is Medicaid Estate Recovery?”

 

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