Know the Difference: Wills vs. Trusts

Do you know the differences between “will” and “trust”? Both are useful estate planning devices that serve different purposes, and both can work together to create a complete estate plan.

Will characteristics:

  • A will goes into effect only after you die
  • A will only covers property that is in your name at your death
  • A will passes through a court process called Probate. In Probate, the court oversees the will’s administration and ensures the will is valid and the property gets distributed the way the deceased wanted.
  • Because a will passes through Probate, it’s a public record.
  • A will allows you to name a guardian for children (Note: Our firm recommends that in addition to this, you use a stand alone guardian nomination.)

Trust characteristics:

  • A trust can be used to begin distributing property before death, at death or afterwards.
  • A trust covers only property that has been transferred to the trust. In order for property to be included in a trust, it must be put in the name of the trust.
  • A trust passes property outside of probate, so a court does not need to oversee the process, which can save time and money.
  • A trust remains private Unlike a will, which becomes part of the public record, a trust can remain private.

Consult with a qualified attorney to advise you on how best to use a will and a trust in your estate plan.

This article is a service of the Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we guide our clients to help make things as easy as possible for themselves and their families in case of death or disability.

Important Changes in Veterans’ Long-Term Care Benefits

It’s now harder than ever for veterans to qualify for long-term care benefits.

Recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) finalized new rules that make it more difficult to qualify for long-term care benefits. The rules establish an asset limit, a look-back period, and asset transfer penalties for claimants applying for VA pension benefits that require a showing of financial need. The main benefit for those needing long-term care is Aid and Attendance.

The VA offers Aid and Attendance to low-income veterans (or their spouses) who are in nursing homes or who need help at home with everyday tasks like dressing or bathing. Aid and Attendance provides money to those who need assistance.

Currently, to be eligible for Aid and Attendance a veteran (or the veteran’s surviving spouse) must meet certain income and asset limits. The asset limits aren’t specified, but $80,000 is the amount usually used. However, unlike with the Medicaid program, there historically have been no penalties if an applicant divests him- or herself of assets before applying. That is, before now you could transfer assets over the VA’s limit before applying for benefits and the transfers would not affect eligibility.

New Regulations in Effect October 18, 2018

Not so anymore. The new regulations set a net worth limit of $123,600, which is the current maximum amount of assets (in 2018) that a Medicaid applicant’s spouse is allowed to retain. But in the case of the VA, this number will include both the applicant’s assets and income. It will be indexed to inflation in the same way that Social Security increases. An applicant’s house (up to a two-acre lot) will not count as an asset even if the applicant is currently living in a nursing home. Applicants will also be able to deduct medical expenses — now including payments to assisted living facilities, as a result of the new rules — from their income.

Three-Year Look-Back Provisions

The regulations also establish a three-year look-back provision. Applicants will have to disclose all financial transactions they were involved in for three years before the application. Applicants who transferred assets to put themselves below the net worth limit within three years of applying for benefits will be subject to a penalty period that can last as long as five years. This penalty is a period of time during which the person who transferred assets is not eligible for VA benefits. There are exceptions to the penalty period for fraudulent transfers and for transfers to a trust for a child who is unable to “self-support.”

Under the new rules, the VA will determine a penalty period in months by dividing the amount transferred that would have put the applicant over the net worth limit by the maximum annual pension rate (MAPR) for a veteran with one dependent in need of aid and attendance. For example, assume the net worth limit is $123,600 and an applicant has a net worth of $115,000. The applicant transferred $30,000 to a friend during the look-back period. If the applicant had not transferred the $30,000, his net worth would have been $145,000, which exceeds the net worth limit by $21,400. The penalty period will be calculated based on $21,400, the amount the applicant transferred that put his assets over the net worth limit (145,000-123,600).

The new rules went into effect on October 18, 2018. The VA will disregard asset transfers made before that date. Applicants may still have time to get through the process before the rules are in place.

Veterans or their spouses who think they may be affected by the new rules should contact their attorney immediately.

This article is a service of the Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we guide our clients to make the best choices for themselves and their loved ones.

5 Planning Pointers for Parents with Children with Special Needs

1. Buy enough life insurance.

A parent is irreplaceable, but someone will have to fill in if the worst happens. It may be siblings or other relatives. In all likelihood, that family will have to pay for at least some services the parent or parents had provided when able. If the estate is not large enough for this purpose, life insurance proceeds can help. Premiums for second-to-die insurance (which pays off only when the second of two parents passes away) can be surprisingly low.

2. Set up a trust.

Any funds left for a child with special needs, whether from an estate or the proceeds of a life insurance policy, should be held in trust for his or her benefit. Leaving money for anyone with a special need jeopardizes public benefits. Many people with special needs cannot manage funds — especially large amounts. Some families disinherit children with special needs, relying on their siblings to care for them. This approach is fraught with potential problems. Siblings can be sued, get divorced, disagree on their responsibilities, or run off with the funds. It can also cause tax problems for the siblings. The best approach is a trust fund set aside for the child with special needs.

3. Legally Document Your Guardianship Choices  

While a will and the appointment of a guardian is important for anyone with minor children, it is doubly so if the child has special needs. Finding the right guardian can be difficult. In some cases, the care needs of the child may be so demanding that he or she will need a different guardian from his or her siblings. The parents need to make these determinations while they can. The will is the vehicle for the appointment of a guardian.

An adult child may also require a guardian when the parent can no longer serve in this role (whether officially appointed or not). It will probably not be legally possible to officially appoint a successor guardian once the parent is out of the picture. So, it may make sense to begin making the transition to a new guardian while the parent is able to assist in the process. This can be in the form of a co-guardianship, or passing the baton to a successor guardian.

4. Write down the care plan.

All parents caring for children with special needs are advised to write down what any successor caregiver would need to know about the child and what the parent’s wishes are for his or her care. Should the child be in a group home, live with a parent, be on his or her own? Usually, the parent knows best, but needs to pass on the information. The memo or letter can be kept in the attorney’s files with the parent’s estate plan.

5. Coordinate with other family members.

Even a carefully developed plan can be sabotaged by a well-meaning relative who leaves money directly to the child with a special need. If a trust is created for the benefit of the child, grandparents and other family members should be told about it so that they can direct any bequest they may like to leave to that child through the trust.

 

This article is a service of the Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we empower families to make the best choices for the sake of the people they love. Call our office today to schedule a consultation.

 

3 Reasons Why Giving Your House to Your Children Isn’t the Best Way to Protect it From Medicaid

You may be afraid of losing your home if you have to enter a nursing home and apply for Medicaid. This is a well-founded fear. That’s because after you die, the state must try to recoup from your estate through a process called “estate recovery” and your family could lose your home.

So you might be tempted to give your home to your children now in order to protect it from estate recovery later. But that’s not a good idea.

Three Reasons Not to Give Your House To Your Children:

1. Medicaid ineligibility

Transferring your house to your children (or someone else) may make you ineligible for Medicaid for a period of time. The state Medicaid agency looks at any transfers made within five years of the Medicaid application. If you made a transfer for less than market value within that time period, the state will impose a penalty period during which you will not be eligible for benefits. Depending on the house’s value, the period of Medicaid ineligibility could stretch on for years, and it would not start until the Medicaid applicant is almost completely out of money.

There are circumstances under which you can transfer a home without penalty. So consult a qualified elder law attorney before making any transfers. You may freely transfer your home to the following individuals without incurring a transfer penalty:

• Your spouse

• A child who is under age 21 or who is blind or disabled

• Into a trust for the sole benefit of a disabled individual under age 65 (even if the trust is for the benefit of the Medicaid applicant, under certain circumstances)

• A sibling who has lived in the home during the year preceding the applicant’s institutionalization and who already holds an equity interest in the home

• A “caretaker child,” who is defined as a child of the applicant who lived in the house for at least two years prior to the applicant’s institutionalization and who during that period provided care that allowed the applicant to avoid a nursing home stay.

2. Loss of control

By transferring your house to your children, you will no longer own the house, which means you will not have control of it. Your children can do what they want with it. In addition, if your children are sued or get divorced, the house may be vulnerable to their creditors.

3. Adverse tax consequences

Inherited property receives a “step up” in basis when you die, which means the basis is the current value of the property. However, when you give property to a child, the tax basis for the property is the same price that you purchased the property for. If your child sells the house after you die, he or she would have to pay capital gains taxes on the difference between the tax basis and the selling price. The only way to avoid some or all of the tax is for the child to live in the house for at least two years before selling it. In that case, the child can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for a couple) of capital gains from taxes.

There are other ways to protect a house from Medicaid estate recovery, including putting the home in a trust. To find out the best option in your circumstances, consult with our office.

This article is a service of the Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make the best decisions for the sake of the people that you love.