Gift-Tax Exemptions are Treated Differently by IRS and Medicaid – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Different government agencies have different rules for the same things. It is a hard lesson, especially for those who try to use their $15,000 annual gift tax exclusion for asset protection for long term care. The results are not good.

A recent article from The News Enterprise makes it clear: “Medicaid and IRS don’t view gift-tax-exemption in same way.”

To understand the exclusion better, let us start by looking at what the amount is being excluded from. The IRS generally allows each person to gift a total of $11.7 million in gifts during their lifetime and after death without incurring a gift tax. There are exceptions, but this is true in most cases. However, that first $15,000 given to each person within each calendar year is excluded from the total amount.

If a woman gives her three children $15,000 each per year for five years, she has given away a total of $225,000. However, this amount is not deducted from the $11.7 million that she is allowed within her lifetime non-taxable gift amount.

However, if the same woman gave her children $16,000 each for five years, the extra $3,000 per year must be deducted from her lifetime non-taxable gift limit. Unless she reaches the $11.7 million after her death, her estate will still not pay taxes on the gifts. She will be required to file a form every year letting the IRS know that she is reducing her limit.

The $15,000 exclusion each year simplifies the ability to give gifts without cumbersome reporting requirements. However, it creates huge—and costly—problems when used in an attempt to become eligible for Medicaid. This federally funded program was created to help low-income people pay for medical and nursing home care. A person’s assets and any financial transactions made within a five-year lookback period are considered when determining eligibility.

What most people do not know is that Medicaid does not allow the gift tax exclusion to be used for the lookback period.

Remember the woman who gave her three children $15,000 each year for five years? If she goes into a nursing facility in the fifth year, after giving her final set of gifts, the IRS will not count any of those gifts made against her lifetime gift tax exemption. However, Medicaid will count the full amount—$225,000—as if those assets were available to pay for her care. The penalty period will make it necessary for her or her family to pay for care, possibly for five years.

To take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion safely when Medicaid may be in the future, an estate planning attorney can create an Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust to hold assets. This is a hybrid trust used to separate assets from the grantor just enough to begin the five-year lookback period while holding property within the grantor’s taxable estate, allowing for a continuing opportunity to take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion without triggering a new five-year look back at each gift.

The IRS and Medicaid work under different rules and understanding what each agency requires can protect the family and those needing nursing home care without creating expensive and stressful results. In addition, some Medicaid planning techniques may work in some states but not in others.

Reference: The News Enterprise (Sep. 14, 2021) “Medicaid and IRS don’t view gift-tax-exemption in same way”

 

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What Is the Best Thing to Do with an Inherited IRA? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When a parent dies and their adult child inherits a traditional IRA, knowing what to do can be the difference between an inheritance and a tax disaster. Many people take the money from the IRA account and place it into their own IRA. However, that is a mistake, says the article “How to manage an inherited IRA from a parent” from Sentinel Source.com.

Any inherited IRA, whether it is from a parent, sibling, or friend, cannot be simply rolled into your own account or treated as if it is your own IRA. Instead, the assets must be transferred in a timely manner to a new IRA that must be titled as an “Inherited IRA” that includes the name of the deceased owner and the phrase “For the benefit of…” and your name. Different financial institutions may have small variations in how they title the account. However, this seemingly small detail is critical.

If a traditional IRA has more than one beneficiary, it must be split into separate accounts for each beneficiary. Each heir will treat their own inherited portion in the same way, as if they were the sole beneficiary.

It is the heir’s choice to either set up a new Inherited IRA Beneficiary account with a financial institution or advisor of their own, or to create a new account using the prior institution. Sometimes using the same firm that held the account is easier, as long as the correct title is used.

The new owner of a Beneficiary IRA needs to know the rules to avoid costly penalties. After the SECURE Act became law in December 2019, most beneficiaries are now required to deplete an inherited IRA within ten (10) years of the original account owner’s death. This applies to any inherited IRAs where the owner has died after December 31, 2019.

The prior rules allowed Inherited IRAs to be depleted over the lifetime of the beneficiary, which allowed the accounts to grow tax-deferred and in many cases, be passed to a third generation, often referred to as “Stretch IRAs.” This option is gone.

There are no limits as to how much or how often withdrawals can be taken from the account, as long as it is depleted in ten years. However, the withdrawals are taxable as regular income, so if you wait until the ten year mark and take out the entire amount, you will end up with a hefty tax bill.

There are exceptions to the withdrawal rule. A surviving spouse, a minor child, a disabled or chronically ill beneficiary, or a beneficiary within ten years of age of the original IRA owner may have a little more time to withdraw funds (and pay taxes on the withdrawals).

If inheriting an IRA from a spouse, you may transfer the IRA balance into your own account and delay distributions until age 72.

Consider your IRAs carefully when working with an estate planning attorney on the distribution of your assets. Will your heirs be able to pay the taxes on their inherited IRAs, or should they be converted to Roth IRAs to relieve heirs of a future tax burden? These are questions that your estate planning attorney will be able to address.

Reference: Sentinel Source.com (Sep. 18, 2021) “How to manage an inherited IRA from a parent”

 

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What are Digital Assets in an Estate? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Planning for what would happen to our intangible, digital assets in the event of incapacity or death is now as important as planning for traditional assets, like real property, IRAs, and investment accounts. How to accomplish estate planning for digital assets is explained in the article, aptly named, “Estate planning for your digital assets” from the Baltimore Business Journal.

Digital asset is the term used to describe all electronically stored information and online accounts. Some digital assets have monetary value, like cryptocurrency and accounts with gaming or gambling winnings, and some may be transferrable to heirs. These include bank accounts, domains, event tickets, airline miles, etc.

Ownership issues are part of the confusion about digital assets. Your social media accounts, family photos, emails and even business records, may be on platforms where the content itself is considered to belong to you, but the platform strictly controls access and may not permit anyone but the original owner to gain control.

Until recently, there was little legal guidance in managing a person’s digital files and accounts in the event of incapacity and death. Accessing accounts, managing contents and understanding the owner, user and licensing agreements have become complex issues.

In 2014, the Uniform Law Commission proposed the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) to provide fiduciaries with some clarity and direction. The law, which was revised in 2015 and is now referred to as RUFADAA (Revised UFADAA) was created as a guideline for states and almost every state has adopted these laws, providing estate planning attorneys with the legal guidelines to help create a digital estate plan.

A digital estate plan starts with considering how many digital accounts you actually own—everything from online banking, music files, books, businesses, emails, apps, utility and bill payment programs. What would happen if you were incapacitated? Would a trusted person have the credentials and technical knowledge to access and manage your digital accounts? What would you want them to do with them? In case of your demise, who would you want to have ownership or access to your digital assets?

Once you have created a comprehensive list of all of your assets—digital and otherwise—an estate planning attorney will be able to update your estate planning documents to include your digital assets. You may need only a will, or you may need any of the many planning tools and strategies available, depending upon the type, location and value of your assets.

Not having a digital asset estate plan leaves your estate vulnerable to many problems, including costs. Identity theft against deceased people is rampant, once their death is noted online. The ability to pay bills to keep a household running may take hours of detective work on your surviving spouse’s part. If your executor does not know about accounts with automatic payments, your estate could give up hundreds or thousands in charges without anyone’s knowledge.

There are more complex digital assets, including cryptocurrency and NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) with values from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars. The rules on the valuation, sale and transfers of these assets are as yet largely undefined. There are also many reports of people who lose large sums because of a lack of planning for these assets.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about your state’s laws concerning digital assets and protect them with an estate plan that includes this new asset class.

Reference: Baltimore Business Journal (Sep. 16, 2021) “Estate planning for your digital assets”

 

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When Should You Fund a Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If your estate plan includes a revocable trust, sometimes called a “living trust,” you need to be certain the trust is funded. When created by an experienced estate planning attorney, revocable trusts provide many benefits, from avoiding having assets owned by the trust pass through probate to facilitating asset management in case of incapacity. However, it does not happen automatically, according to a recent article from mondaq.com, “Is Your Revocable Trust Fully Funded?”

For the trust to work, it must be funded. Assets must be transferred to the trust, or beneficiary accounts must have the trust named as the designated beneficiary. The SECURE Act changed many rules concerning distribution of retirement account to trusts and not all beneficiary accounts permit a trust to be the owner, so you will need to verify this.

The revocable trust works well to avoid probate, and as the “grantor,” or creator of the trust, you may instruct trustees how and when to distribute trust assets. You may also revoke the trust at any time. However, to effectively avoid probate, you must transfer title to virtually all your assets. It includes those you own now and in the future. Any assets owned by you and not the trust will be subject to probate. This may include life insurance, annuities and retirement plans, if you have not designated a beneficiary or secondary beneficiary for each account.

What happens when the trust is not funded? The assets are subject to probate, and they will not be subject to any of the controls in the trust, if you become incapacitated. One way to avoid this is to take inventory of your assets and ensure they are properly titled on a regular basis.

Another reason to fund a trust: maximizing protection from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance coverage. Most of us enjoy this protection in our bank accounts on deposits up to $250,000. However, a properly structured revocable trust account can increase protection up to $250,000 per beneficiary, up to five beneficiaries, regardless of the dollar amount or percentage.

If your revocable trust names five beneficiaries, a bank account in the name of the trust is eligible for FDIC insurance coverage up to $250,000 per beneficiary, or $1.25 million (or $2.5 million for jointly owned accounts). For informal revocable trust accounts, the bank’s records (although not the account name) must include all beneficiaries who are to be covered. FDIC insurance is on a per-institution basis, so coverage can be multiplied by opening similarly structured accounts at several different banks.

One last note: FDIC rules regarding revocable trust accounts are complex, especially if a revocable trust has multiple beneficiaries. Speak with your estate planning attorney to maximize insurance coverage.

Reference: mondaq.com (Sep. 10, 2021) “Is Your Revocable Trust Fully Funded?”

 

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What You Need to Know about Long-Term Care – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The median cost of a private room in a nursing home was $105,850, and in-home care costs were $53,768 to $54,912 annually, according to Genworth’s 2020 Cost of Care Survey. CNBC’s recent article entitled “Most retirees will need long-term care. These are the best ways to pay for it” says these costs vary by location.

Although it is hard to predict a retiree’s needs, the chances of requiring some type of long-term care services are high, about 70% for the average 65-year-old. Men typically need 2.2 years of care, and women may require 3.7 years.

Long-term care insurance may cover all or a portion of services. The premiums depend on someone’s age, gender, health, location and more. However, there’s a 50% chance someone will never need their policy, the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance estimates, and premium hikes can be costly. Premiums typically increase about 5%, every five years.

A hybrid long-term care policy is another option. These policies are part life insurance or an annuity and part long-term care coverage.

Seniors can buy a policy with an upfront payment, eliminating the risk of future premium increases and their heirs may receive a death benefit if they do not need long-term care. However, it may be harder to compare prices for a hybrid long-term policy than standalone long-term care coverage.

Low-income retirees with assets below certain thresholds may be eligible for long-term care services through Medicaid.

President Joe Biden also called for $400 billion in Medicaid funding for home and community-based care as part of the American Jobs Plan, and separately, House and Senate Democrats introduced bills supporting Biden’s agenda in June.

Reference: CNBC (Aug. 26, 2021) “Most retirees will need long-term care. These are the best ways to pay for it”

 

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Benefit Controlled Trust May Be Answer to Protecting Legacy – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When beneficiaries receive their inheritance in their own names, a legacy becomes vulnerable to creditors, lawsuits, divorce and a second estate tax when they die. Complicating matters further, if the heir receives means-tested government benefits, their benefits may be lost if they receive a direct inheritance.

There is a solution, explains the article “What a Beneficiary Controlled Trust Can Do to Protect Your Legacy After You Are Gone” from Kiplinger. Having each beneficiary’s inheritance go into their own Beneficiary Controlled Trust can protect your legacy. Properly created and funded, the beneficiary may control, use and enjoy their inheritance with less risk than outright ownership. A Beneficiary Controlled Trust protects loved ones from the ups and downs of life. Divorce, lawsuits, creditor claims, bankruptcy are all unpleasant, but they do happen.

A Spendthrift Trust is used for beneficiaries who cannot be trusted to make good financial decisions, or who have people in their lives who cannot be trusted. It is like a spigot on a garden hose. The trustee decides when the beneficiary should receive access to assets, how much and when.

In a Beneficiary Controlled Trust, the beneficiary can also be the controlling trustee. The beneficiary has the same level of control as they would with outright ownership. They can make investment decisions. Assets, including real property or investment accounts, are owned by the trust.

After inheritance, the primary beneficiary has the ability to alter the level of control or protection, if they are concerned about upcoming risks. If the risk is particularly strong, for example, a contentious divorce, the primary beneficiary may resign as a trustee and appoint a trusted family member or professional to act as a trustee.

Another trust is a HEMS trust, one limited to providing distributions for the beneficiary’s Health, Education, Maintenance and Support. HEMS trusts are used to avoid estate tax. However, in some states, certain creditors, including divorcing spouses or health care providers, are permitted to pierce the trust and access assets.

If the primary beneficiary of a Beneficiary Controlled Trust wishes to enhance asset protection, they can appoint an independent trustee who serves as the distribution trustee. They may make distributions to the beneficiary at their discretion, which can provide another level of protection. The beneficiary may not wish to giver such broad discretion to an independent trustee, as in the case of Brittney Spears. This can be minimized by giving the primary beneficiary the right to remove and replace the independent trustee. The beneficiary will not have direct control over the distributions, but they decide who will manage the trust. The person may not be a related party or subordinate person.

Taxes should always be a consideration when creating trusts. Your estate planning attorney should review goals, concerns, and your unique situation to determine which type of trust works best for you and your family.

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 13, 2021) “What a Beneficiary Controlled Trust Can Do to Protect Your Legacy After You Are Gone”

 

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What are the Key Documents in Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A basic estate plan can be fairly straightforward to create with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Here are the main items you need in an estate plan. However, ask your estate planning attorney about what else you may need in your specific circumstances.

Bankrate’s recent article entitled “Estate planning checklist: 3 key steps to making a successful plan” says there are three things you need in every good estate plan: Last Will and Testament, Power(s) of Attorney and an Advance Healthcare Directive – and each serves a different purpose. Let us look at these:

A Last Will and Testament. This is the cornerstone of your estate plan.  A Will instructs the way in which your assets should be distributed.

Everyone needs a Will, even if it is a very basic one. If you do nothing else in planning your estate, at least create a Will, so you do not die intestate and leave the decisions to the courts.

A Power of Attorney (POA). This document permits you to give a person the ability to take care of your affairs while you are still living. A financial POA can help, if you are incapacitated and unable to manage your finances or pay your bills. A medical POA can also help a loved one take care of healthcare decisions on your behalf.

With a financial POA, you can give as much or as little power over your financial affairs as you want. Note that when establishing this document, you should have a conversation with your POA Agent, so if called upon, he or she will have a good understanding of what they can and cannot do financially for you. A healthcare POA also allows a person to make healthcare decisions, if you are unable to do so.

An Advance Healthcare Directive. This document instructs medical staff how you want them to handle your health-related decisions, if you are unable to choose or communicate. It includes resuscitation, sustaining your quality of life, pain management and end-of-life care.

Reference: Bankrate (July 23, 2021) “Estate planning checklist: 3 key steps to making a successful plan”

 

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What are Biggest Mistakes in Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Bankrate’s recent article entitled “Estate planning checklist: 3 key steps to making a successful plan” talks about five things to watch out for with an estate plan. Therefore, as you are making your estate plan, carefully consider everything, and that means it may take some time to complete your plan.  Let us look at five things to watch out for in that process:

  1. Plan your estate now. Of course, it is not just the old and infirm who need an estate plan. Everyone needs a last will so that their last wishes are respected, knowing that the unexpected can happen at any time.
  2. Say who will take care of your minor children. While last wills may typically focus on what happens to your financial assets, you will also want to specify what happens to any minor children on your passing, namely who takes care of them. If you have underage children, you must state who would be a guardian for that child and where that child will live. Without a last will, a judge will decide who will take care of your children. That could be a family member or a state-appointed guardian.
  3. 3. Ask executors if they are willing and able to take on the task. An executor carries out the instructions in your last will. This may be a complicated and time-consuming task. It involves distributing money in accordance with the stipulations of the document and ensuring that the estate is moved properly through the legal system. Make sure you designate an executor who is up to the task. That means you will need to speak with them and make certain that he or she is willing and able to act.
  4. Consider if you want to leave it all to your children. Many young families simply give all their assets to their children when they die. However, if the parents pass away when the children are young, and they do not establish a trust, they have access to all of the money when they reach the age of majority. This could be a great sum of money for a young adult to inherit with no rules on how to use it.
  5. Keep your estate plan up to date. You should review your estate plan regularly, at least every five years to be sure that everything is still how you intend it and that tax laws have not changed in the interim. Your plan could be vastly out of date, depending on changes since you first drafted it.

Estate planning can be a process where you demonstrate to your friends and family how much you care about them and how you have remembered them with certain assets or property.

It is a way to ensure that your loved ones do not have months of work trying to handle your estate.

Reference: Bankrate (July 23, 2021) “Estate planning checklist: 3 key steps to making a successful plan”

 

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What Should I Know about Cryptocurrency and Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Cryptocurrency is a digital currency that can be used to buy online goods and services, explains Forbes’ recent article entitled “Cryptocurrency And Estate Planning: What Digital Investors Should Know.” Part of cryptocurrency’s appeal is the technology that backs it. Blockchain is a decentralized system that records and manages transactions across many computers and is very secure.

As of June 24, the total value of all cryptocurrencies was $1.35 trillion, according to CoinMarketCap. There are many available cryptocurrencies. However, the most popular ones include Bitcoin, Ethereum, Binance Coin and Dogecoin. Many believe cryptocurrency will be a main currency in the future, and they are opting to buy it now. They also like the fact that central banks are not involved in the process, so they cannot interfere with its value.

In addition, NFTs or non-fungible tokens, are also gaining in popularity. Each token is one of a kind and they are also supported by blockchain technology. They can be anything digital, such as artwork or music files. NFTs are currently being used primarily as a way to buy and sell digital art. An artist could sell their original digital artwork to a buyer. The buyer is the owner of the exclusive original, but the artist might retain proprietary rights to feature the artwork or make copies of it. The popularity of NFTs is centered around the social value of fine art collecting in the digital space.

Here are three reasons to have an estate plan, if you buy bitcoin:

  1. No probate. Even if your loved ones knew you had cryptocurrency, and even if they knew where you stored your password, that would not be enough for them to get access to it. Without a proper estate plan, your digital assets may be put through a lengthy and expensive probate process.
  2. Blockchain technology. You must have a private key to access each of your assets. It is usually a long passcode. A comprehensive estate plan that includes this can help you have peace of mind knowing that your investments can be passed on to loved ones’ if anything were to happen to you unexpectedly.
  3. Again, central banks do not play any part in the process, and it is secure because its processing and recording are spread across many different computers. However, there is no governing body overseeing the affairs of cryptocurrency.

Reference: Forbes (July 21, 2021) “Cryptocurrency And Estate Planning: What Digital Investors Should Know”

 

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What’s an Enhanced Life Estate? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

First Coast News’ recent article entitled “Deed named for former first lady could be key to planning your estate” explains that a strategy that is available in Florida and a few other states is called an enhanced life estate or a “Lady Bird” deed, named after former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson.

This deed states that when I die, you get the property, but until then, I reserve all rights to do whatever I want with it. That contrasts with a traditional life estate where a property owner can plan for one or more others to inherit their house.

Typically, the person with a life estate has a lot less control over what happens in the future, including potentially being thwarted by the very person you are tapping to receive your property at your death, in case you decide you no longer want the house while you are still alive.

The problem is, now you want to sell the property, but since they are a co-owner, they can refuse. And there is nothing you can do about it.

Enhanced life estates are also about protecting property and its eventual recipient from creditors after the death of the owner. That is the benefit of avoiding probate. Medicaid or any other creditor may become a creditor in probate.

A Lady Bird deed supersedes a will.

But there are downsides to the Lady Bird deed. A big drawback is if you change your mind. You have to now record another deed in the public record to remove that, and every deed that you record creates one thing that could go wrong.

However, this can be true of any change made in hope of overriding an earlier estate decision, and Lady Bird deeds are fairly straightforward.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney if this type of arrangement is available in your state.

Reference: First Coast News (July 19, 2021) “Deed named for former first lady could be key to planning your estate”

 

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