Should I Use a Home Equity Loan to Float my Retirement? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many retirees—and those nearing retirement—have put much of their savings in traditional IRAs or 401(k)s, which are tax-deferred methods for accumulating wealth. In addition, taxpayers may decide to use other tax-deferred accounts to avoid interest, dividends, and capital gains from spilling into their tax returns. These strategies can help taxpayers decrease income and taxes.

However, Kiplinger’s recent article, “How You Can ‘TAP’ into Home Equity to Help Keep Your Retirement Stable,” says that once we “turn on the faucet” and withdraw money from these tax-deferred accounts, additional income will have to be claimed on our tax returns. Instead, retirees can make moves that will help them reduce taxes. A lesser-known tool to look at for tax-free income is a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, on your home.

Let’s examine two scenarios in which a HELOC may make sense in retirement:

An IRA drawdown. Let’s say that a typical married retired couple wants to stay in the 12% tax bracket as joint filers. They can withdraw up to $78,950 of taxable income from their IRAs to stay in this bracket in 2019. That amount goes up to $103,350, after adding the standard deduction of $24,400. Then, for any additional funds they may need during the year, they can use a HELOC. For example, if they take $15,000 out, they will actually receive $15,000 tax-free. However, if they take the same amount from their IRA, it would move them into the 22% tax bracket. As a result, they’d owe $3,300 in federal taxes, in addition to any state or local income taxes. Therefore, they only receive about $10,000 after taxes from their IRA withdrawal. The HELOC is tax-free, and the interest rate charged on a HELOC is generally low at this point. Depending on your purpose for the money, that interest may be tax deductible, and repayments can be planned over a multiyear term to be covered by future IRA distributions or other investment income. This spreads out the tax impact to continuously stay under tax bracket thresholds, keeping as much of your money in your hands as possible.

Emergency money. Unexpected expenses can arise, and if you don’t have funds available in a checking or savings account, the emotion of a stressful emergency may drive you to make impulsive (and costly) financial decisions. Instead of using a high-interest credit card or cashing out investments, a HELOC can be a wise move. Note that there are some HELOC disadvantages. The interest rate is variable, which means the monthly payment can be unpredictable, especially during times of rising interest rates.

There are other ways to use the equity in your home to create cash flow in retirement, but a HELOC may be best for some retirees, based on its flexibility for scenarios, such as future downsizing or the potential need for the cost of assisted living facilities down the road. A HELOC can be a very useful tool for a proactive and comprehensive cash-flow plan in retirement.

Reference: Kiplinger (October 8, 2019) “How You Can ‘TAP’ into Home Equity to Help Keep Your Retirement Stable”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

The Medicaid Medically Needy “Spend-Down Program” – What You Need to Know – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If you’ve been denied Medicaid benefits because you have too many assets or too high an income, don’t give up. There are available programs that may enable you to qualify for Medicaid benefits, despite this setback. Each state may offer different programs, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has added new ways to obtain coverage. This article addresses the “spend down program” offered in every state.

Medicaid Spend-Down Program – The Basics

To qualify for Medicaid benefits, your income and assets may not exceed a certain amount set by law. If these items do exceed the legal limits, you may still qualify after a spend-down period. The medically needy spend-down program helps individuals over the age of 65, and some younger individuals with disabilities. To be eligible for this program, you must not be receiving public financial assistance.

Exempt & Non-Exempt Assets

It is not necessary to sell off everything you own to qualify for the spend-down program. You may keep a certain amount of “exempt assets,” such as the home you live in, your car (used for transportation), household furniture, clothes, jewelry and other personal items. None of these assets affect your eligibility, regardless of their value (unless you have high equity, say $1 million in an asset, in which case you may need to spend that down).

Non-exempt assets, on the other hand, do affect your eligibility for the spend-down program. These assets include bank accounts, stocks, investments, and cash over $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a married couple.

Amount of Income You Can Have to Apply

It does not matter how much income you have when you apply. The more income you have, though, the more medical expenses you must incur before your coverage can start. The way you spend down this income is by spending it on medical expenses, until you reach the income requirements for Medicaid. Interestingly, you just need to incur medical costs. You don’t have to actually pay them.

In addition, you can pay down accrued debt to spend down your income. Therefore, paying down credit card bills, car payments, or mortgage debt can count towards your spend down. Another tactic you can use, is to pay excess monthly amounts on old medical bills.

Seeking Professional Assistance

Medicaid programs are different in each state, and the laws change frequently. If done wrong, you could end up incurring penalties instead of obtaining benefits. It may be a good idea to enlist the help of a Medicaid specialist or elder law attorney to walk you through the process in a way that will avoid these types of penalties.

Resources:

National Council on Aging. “Benefits Checkup” (Accessed November 28, 2019) https://www.benefitscheckup.org/fact-sheets/factsheet_medicaid_la_medicaid_spend_down/#/

U.S. News and World Report. “How a Medicaid Spend Down Works.” (Accessed 28, 2019) https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/baby-boomers/articles/how-a-medicaid-spend-down-works

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What Debts Must Be Paid Before and After Probate? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Everything that must be addressed in settling an estate becomes more complicated when there is no will and no estate planning has taken place before the person dies. Debts are a particular area of concern for the estate and the executor. What has to be paid and who gets paid first? These are explained in the article “Dealing with Debts and Mortgages in Probate” from The Balance.

Probate is the process of gaining court approval of the estate and paying off final bills and expenses before property can be transferred to beneficiaries. Dealing with the debts of a deceased person can be started before probate officially begins.

Start by making a list of all of the decedent’s liabilities and look for the following bills or statements:

  • Mortgages
  • Reverse mortgages
  • Home equity loans
  • Lines of credit
  • Condo fees
  • Property taxes
  • Federal and state income taxes
  • Car and boat loans
  • Personal loans
  • Loans against life insurance policies
  • Loans against retirement accounts
  • Credit card bills
  • Utility bills
  • Cell phone bills

Next, divide those items into two categories: those that will be ongoing during probate—consider them administrative expenses—and those that can be paid off after the probate estate is opened. These are considered “final bills.” Administrative bills include things like mortgages, condo fees, property taxes and utility bills. They must be kept current. Final bills include income taxes, personal loans, credit card bills, cell phone bills and loans against retirement accounts and/or life insurance policies.

The executors and heirs should not pay any bills out of their own pockets. The executor deals with all of these liabilities in the process of settling the estate.

For some of the liabilities, heirs may have a decision to make about whether to keep the assets with loans. If the beneficiary wants to keep the house or a car, they may, but they have to keep paying down the debt. Otherwise, these payments should be made only by the estate.

The executor decides what bills to pay and which assets should be liquidated to pay final bills.

A far better plan for your beneficiaries is to create a comprehensive estate plan that includes a will that details how you want your assets distributed and addresses what your wishes are. If you want to leave a house to a loved one, your estate planning attorney will be able to explain how to make that happen while minimizing taxes on your estate.

Reference: The Balance (March 21, 2019) “Dealing with Debts and Mortgages in Probate”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

For Immediate Release

Contact: Jane Frankel Sims

410-828-7775

Contact: Frank Campbell

410-263-1667

Sims & Campbell Estates and Trusts

Frankel Sims Law and Holden & Campbell
Merge to Form Sims & Campbell

Firm will offer comprehensive Trusts & Estates services through offices in Towson and Annapolis

TOWSON, Md. (April 26,2019)  Frankel Sims Law and Holden & Campbell have jointly announced the merger of their firms to create a boutique Trusts & Estates law firm providing comprehensive services in the fields of Estate Planning, Estate Administration, Trust Administration and Charitable Giving. The combined firm will be named Sims & Campbell and have offices in Towson, Md. and Annapolis, Md.  Jane Frankel Sims and Frank Campbell will lead and hold equal ownership stakes in the firm.

Sims & Campbell will have 9 attorneys and 15 legal professionals that handle every facet of estate and wealth transfer planning, including wills, revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, estate and gift tax advice, and charitable giving strategies.  The firm will focus solely on Trusts & Estates but will serve a wide range of clients, from young families with modest resources to ultra-high net worth individuals.  This allows clients to remain with the firm as their level of wealth and the complexity of related estate and tax implications change over time. 

“By joining forces, we have expanded our footprint to conveniently serve clients in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia” said Jane Frankel Sims.  We are seeing some of the greatest wealth transfer in our country’s history, and we want to continue to be on the leading edge of helping our clients maintain and enhance their family’s wealth.  In addition, we aim to serve our clients for years to come, and the new firm structure will allow Sims & Campbell to thrive even after Frank and I have retired.”    

“Jane and I have always admired each other’s firms and recognized the need to provide even greater depth and breadth of focused expertise to help families amass and protect their wealth from generation to generation,” said Frank Campbell.  “Now we have even greater capabilities to make a real difference for our clients.” 

The Sims & Campbell Towson office is located at 500 York Road, on the corner of York Road and Pennsylvania Avenue in the heart of Towson.  The Annapolis office is currently located at 716 Melvin Avenue, and is moving to 181 Truman Parkway in August, 2019.  For more information, visit www.simscampbell.law.