Top 10 Success Tips for Estate Planning – Annapolis and Towson 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.  Contact us to begin working on your estate plan with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys today.

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

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

What Should I Know About Long-Term Care? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Long-term care insurance is a specialty type of insurance that helps pay for costs that are typically connected with long-term care. This can include items such as care given in a hospital, nursing home services, medical services provided in your home and treatment for dementia.

WGN’s recent article entitled “10 Crucial Things to Know about Long-Term Care“ looks at these important items.

  1. The Biggest Financial Threat. The most significant threat to your financial nest egg is long-term care. About 70% of people over 65 will need some kind of long-term care during their life. The national average for home health care services is $16,743 per month. However, there are ways to manage this without buying a traditional long-term care insurance policy where “you use it or lose it.”
  2. Long-Term Care Insurance is Really “Lifestyle” Insurance. It’s NOT nursing home insurance.
  3. Reverse Mortgages. These have become a popular and accepted way of paying for expenses, including the cost of long-term care. Reverse mortgages are designed to keep seniors at home longer. A reverse mortgage can pay for in-home care, home repair, home modification and other needs.
  4. Using Medicaid to Pay for Long-Term Care. This should be a last resort to pay for long-term care, but it also may be the only way to protect family assets. Medicaid will pay for long-term care, but certain criteria must be satisfied. Talk to an elder law attorney before applying for Medicaid.
  5. Important Considerations When Selecting a Long-Term Care Plan. Four things to consider: (i) go with a company with an AM BEST rating of A+ or better; (ii) the assets of the insurance company should be in the billions; (iii) some long-term care insurers will allow for group discounts through employers, or “affinity” group discounts through a local organization; and (iv) the tax advantages for tax-qualified long-term care insurance plans. At the federal level, premiums for long-term care insurance fall into the “medical expense” category. On the state level, 26 states offer some form of deduction or tax credit for long-term care insurance premiums.
  6. The Annuity-Based Long-Term Care & The Pension Protection Act. In 2006, this law was enacted to permit those with annuity contracts to have long-term care riders with special tax advantages. The Act allows the cash value of annuity contracts to be used to pay premiums on long-term care contracts.
  7. Asset-Based Long-Term Care Solutions. The best planning approach for those who choose to self-insure is to “invest” some of their legacy assets so the assets can be worth as much as possible whenever they may be needed to pay for care. If unneeded, the money would then pass to the intended heirs, with no “use it or lose it” issues as with conventional long-term care insurance.
  8. Long-Term Care Strategy Using IRA Money. Most people use their IRA to supplement retirement. However, sometimes waiting until age 72 when mandatory required minimum distribution rules apply, some people have instead opted to take a portion of their IRA and fund an IRA-based annuity which then systematically funds a 20-pay life insurance plan with long-term care features. This type of IRA-based long-term care policy is unique in the sense that it starts out as an IRA annuity policy, also known as a tax-qualified annuity, and then over a 20-year period makes equal distribution internally to the insurance carrier and funds the life insurance.
  9. Important Documents for Long-Term Care Planning. Contact us to ask one of our experienced estate planning attorneys about a power of attorney for health care and financial power of attorney, as well as an advance directive or living will.
  10. Using Veterans Benefits to Pay for Long-Term Care. The VA offers a special pension: the Aid and Attendance (A&A) Benefit. This is a “pension benefit” and is not dependent upon service-related injuries for compensation.

Reference: WGN (2022) “10 Crucial Things to Know about Long-Term Care“

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

Medicaid Crisis Plans for Long Term Care Costs – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

To the estate planning attorney, the situation is known as “crisis planning.” It almost always involves two things happening at once: the immediate need for additional healthcare and for a family’s assets to be protected. The end goal of crisis planning is to protect assets for both spouses, while ensuring that the sick spouse receives the care they need, as explained in the article “Crisis planning for couples focuses on asset protection” from The News-Enterprise.

What is Medicaid Crisis Planning?

Crisis planning for married couples requires a three-step process. First, does the spouse in crisis have the documents in place to allow another person to act on their behalf? This includes a financial power of attorney and a healthcare power of attorney.

Powers of Attorney need to be checked to ensure that they include specific powers needed to take action on the person’s behalf. These documents are “state specific,” meaning each state has laws determining what the POA must contain and how it must be prepared. Crisis planning requires a POA providing a broad set of powers, so agents can access and change documents like deeds, bank and investment accounts.

Once the documents and POAs are in hand, the next step is to get a detailed breakdown of the couple’s financial position and the cost of care. This becomes easier if the couple is organized and has information readily available for each income stream and asset.

What Information Will the Agent Need?

The agent must find several different types of financial documents. Proof of income for each income stream is needed. The actual proof of income will show taxes withdrawn or other deductions taken from income, such as health insurance.

The agent will also need access to several months of statements for each account, including bank statements, investment accounts, retirement accounts and deeds and titles for property. Proof of other assets, including insurance policies, burial plot deeds and other assets must also be included.

Some types of income and assets are countable, and some are non-countable. However, the non-countable income and assets may need to be considered, so the estate planning attorney will need to have all the information.

Medicaid Resource Assessment Request

Step three is to determine eligibility for programs and make the necessary applications. This will depend on the type of care needed. However, a typical crisis case is for nursing home care, which almost always means Medicaid eligibility. All income and assets are reported to Medicaid through a Resource Assessment request. The Medicaid office creates a breakdown of what will be counted against the applicant.

The remaining amount is what must be “spent down” for a person to be eligible for Medicaid coverage.

The most common way to do this is through a Medicaid Annuity. This annuity takes the spend down amount and returns the full amount as income to the spouse at home, effectively preserving the couple’s assets.

Crisis planning is stressful but does not have to be hopeless. By working with an experienced estate planning attorney and providing documentation as quickly as possible, health care needs can be met without the well spouse being impoverished.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (July 23, 2022) “Crisis planning for couples focuses on asset protection”

 

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

Should a Reverse Mortgage Be Used for Long-Term Care? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Someone turning 65 has nearly a 7-in-10 chance of needing long-term care in the future, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. However, many people do not have the savings to manage the cost of assisted living. What they do have is a mortgage-free home — and the equity in it, giving them the potential option of a reverse mortgage to help cover care costs.

MSN’s recent article entitled “A reverse mortgage could be one way to pay for long-term care, but should you do it?” looks at how to evaluate whether a reverse mortgage might be a smart option.

A reverse mortgage is a loan or line of credit on the assessed value of your home. Most reverse mortgages are federally backed Home Equity Conversion Mortgages, or HECMs, which are loans up to a federal limit of $970,800. Homeowners must be 62 years old to apply.

If you have at least 50% to 55% equity in your home, you have a good chance of qualifying for a loan or line of credit for a portion of that equity. The amount depends on your age and the home’s appraised value. Note that you must keep paying taxes and insurance on the home. The loan is repaid when the borrower dies or moves out. If there are two borrowers, the line of credit remains until the second borrower dies or moves out.

A reverse mortgage can provide a stream of income to pay for long-term care. However, there are some limitations. A reverse mortgage requires that you live in the home.

If you are the sole borrower of a reverse mortgage, and you move to a care facility for a year or longer, you will be in violation of the loan requirements. Therefore, you will have to repay the loan.

Because of the costs, reverse mortgages are also best suited for a circumstance where you plan to stay in your home long-term. They do not make sense if your home is not right for aging in place or if you plan to move in the next three to five years. However, for home health care or paying for a second borrower who is in a nursing home, this loan can help bridge the gap.

The income is also tax-free, and it does not affect your Social Security or Medicare benefits.

Reverse mortgages are expensive. The costs are equal to those of a traditional mortgage, 3% to 5% of the home’s appraised value. Interest accrues on any portion you have used, so eventually you will owe more than you have borrowed. Finally, you will leave less to your heirs.

Reference: MSN (June 13, 2022) “A reverse mortgage could be one way to pay for long-term care, but should you do it?”

 

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

Must I Sell Parent’s Home if They Move to a Nursing Facility? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If a parent is transferring to a nursing home, you may ask if her home must be sold.

It is common in a parent’s later years to have the parent and an adult child on the deed, with a line of credit on the house. As a result, there is very little equity.

Seniors Matter’s recent article entitled “If my mom moves to a nursing home, does her home need to be sold?” says that if your mother has assets in her name, but not enough resources to pay for an extended nursing home stay, this can add another level of complexity.

If your mother has long-term care insurance or a life insurance policy with a nursing home rider, these can help cover the costs.

However, if your mom will rely on state aid, through Medicaid, she will need to qualify for coverage based on her income and assets.

Medicaid income and asset limits are low—and vary by state. Homes are usually excluded from the asset limits for qualification purposes. That is because most states’ Medicaid programs will not count a nursing home resident’s home as an asset when calculating an applicant’s eligibility for Medicaid, provided the resident intends to return home

However, a home may come into play later on because states eventually attempt to recover their costs of providing care. If a parent stays a year-and-a-half in a nursing home—the typical stay for women— when her home is sold, the state will make a claim for a share of the home’s sales proceeds.

Many seniors use an irrevocable trust to avoid this “asset recovery.”

Trusts can be expensive to create and require the help of an experienced elder law attorney. As a result, in some cases, this may not be an option. If there is not enough equity left after the sale, some states also pursue other assets, such as bank accounts, to satisfy their nursing home expense claims.

An adult child selling the home right before the parent goes into a nursing home would also not avoid the state trying to recover its costs. This is because Medicaid has a look-back period for asset transfers occurring within five years.

There are some exceptions. For example, if an adult child lived with their parent in the house as her caregiver prior to her being placed in a nursing home. However, there are other requirements.

Talk to an elder law attorney on the best way to go, based on state law and other specific factors.

Reference: Seniors Matter (Feb. 25, 2022) “If my mom moves to a nursing home, does her home need to be sold?”

 

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

What Is Elder Law? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

WAGM’s recent article entitled “A Closer Look at Elder Law“ takes a look at what goes into estate planning and elder law.

Wills and estate planning may not be the most exciting things to talk about. However, in this day and age, they can be one of the most vital tools to ensure your wishes are carried out after you are gone.

People often do not know what they should do, or what direction they should take.

The earlier you get going and consider your senior years, the better off you are going to be. For many, it seems to be around 55 when it comes to starting to think about long term care issues.

However, you can start your homework long before that.

Elder law attorneys focus their practice on issues that concern older people. However, it is not exclusively for older people, since these lawyers counsel other family members of the elderly about their concerns.

A big concern for many families is how do I get started and how much planning do I have to do ahead of time?

If you are talking about an estate plan, what’s stored just in your head is usually enough preparation to get the ball rolling and speak with an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney.

They can create an estate plan that may consists of a basic will, a financial power of attorney, a medical power of attorney and a living will.

For long term care planning, people will frequently wait too long to start their preparations, and they are faced with a crisis. That can entail finding care for a loved one immediately, either at home or in a facility, such as an assisted living home or nursing home. Waiting until a crisis also makes it harder to find specific information about financial holdings.

Some people also have concerns about the estate or death taxes with which their families may be saddled with after they pass away. For the most part, that is not an issue because the federal estate tax only applies if your estate is worth more than $12.06 million in 2022. However, you should know that a number of states have their own estate tax. This includes Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, plus Washington, D.C.

Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania have only an inheritance tax, which is a tax on what you receive as the beneficiary of an estate. Maryland has both.

Therefore, the first thing to do is to recognize that we have two stages. The first is where we may need care during life, and the second is to distribute our assets after death. Make certain that you have both in place.

Reference: WAGM (Dec. 8, 2021) “A Closer Look at Elder Law“

 

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

Can I Restructure Assets to Qualify for Medicaid? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Some people believe that Medicaid is only for poor and low-income seniors. However, with proper and thoughtful estate planning and the help of an attorney who specializes in Medicaid planning, all but the very wealthiest people can often qualify for program benefits.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “How to Restructure Your Assets to Qualify for Medicaid says that unlike Medicare, Medicaid is not a federally run program. Operating within broad federal guidelines, each state determines its own Medicaid eligibility criteria, eligible coverage groups, services covered, administrative and operating procedures and payment levels.

The Medicaid program covers long-term nursing home care costs and many home health care costs, which are not covered by Medicare. If your income exceeds your state’s Medicaid eligibility threshold, there are two commonly used trusts that can be used to divert excess income to maintain your program eligibility.

Qualified Income Trusts (QITs): Also known as a “Miller trust,” this is an irrevocable trust into which your income is placed and then controlled by a trustee. The restrictions are tight on what the income placed in the trust can be used for (e.g., both a personal and if applicable a spousal “needs allowance,” as well as any medical care costs, including the cost of private health insurance premiums). However, due to the fact that the funds are legally owned by the trust (not you individually), they no longer count against your Medicaid income eligibility.

Pooled Income Trusts: Like a QIT, these are irrevocable trusts into which your “surplus income” can be placed to maintain Medicaid eligibility. To take advantage of this type of trust, you must qualify as disabled. Your income is pooled together with the income of others and managed by a non-profit charitable organization that acts as trustee and makes monthly disbursements to pay expenses on behalf of the individuals for whom the trust was made. Any funds remaining in the trust at your death are used to help other disabled individuals in the trust.

These income trusts are designed to create a legal pathway to Medicaid eligibility for those with too much income to qualify for assistance, but not enough wealth to pay for the rising cost of much-needed care. Like income limitations, the Medicaid “asset test” is complicated and varies from state to state. Generally, your home’s value (up to a maximum amount) is exempt, provided you still live there or intend to return. Otherwise, most states require you to spend down other assets to around $2,000/person ($4,000/married couple) to qualify.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 7, 2021) “How to Restructure Your Assets to Qualify for Medicaid”

 

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

Any Ideas How to Pay for Long-Term Care? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

SGE’s recent article entitled “How to Pay for Long-Term Care” explains that although long-term care insurance can be a good way to pay for long-term care costs, not everyone can buy a policy. Insurance companies will not sell coverage to people already in long-term care or having trouble with activities of daily living. They may also refuse coverage, if you have had a stroke or been diagnosed with dementia, cancer, AIDS or Parkinson’s Disease. Even healthy people over 85 may not be able to get long-term care coverage.

The potential costs of long-term care be challenging for even a relatively prosperous patient if they are forced to stay for some time in a nursing home. However, there are a number of options for covering these expenses, including the following:

  • Federal and state governments. While the federal government’s health insurance plan does not cover most long-term care costs, it would pay for up to 100 days in a nursing home if patients required skilled services and rehabilitative care. Skilled home health or other skilled in-home service may also be covered by Medicare. State programs will also pay for long-term care services for people whose incomes are below a certain level and meet other requirements.
  • Private health insurance. Employer-sponsored health plans and other private health insurance will cover some long-term care costs, such as shorter-term, medically necessary skilled care.
  • Long-term care insurance. Private long-term care insurance policies can cover many of the costs of long-term care.
  • Private savings. Older adults who require long-term care that is not covered by government programs and who do not have long-term care insurance can use money from their retirement accounts, personal savings, brokerage accounts and other sources.
  • Health savings accounts. Money in these tax-advantaged savings can be withdrawn tax-free to pay for qualifying medical expenses, such as long-term care. However, only those in high-deductible health plans can put money into health savings accounts.
  • Home equity loans. Many older adults have paid off their mortgages or have a lot of equity in their homes. A home equity loan is a way to tap this value to pay for long-term care.
  • Reverse mortgage. This allows a homeowner to get what amounts to a home equity loan without paying interest or principal on the loans while they are alive. When the homeowner dies or moves out, the entire balance of the loan becomes due. The lender usually takes ownership.
  • Life insurance. Asset-based long-term care insurance is a whole life insurance policy that permits the policyholder to use the death benefits to pay for long-term care. Life insurance policies can also be purchased with a long-term care rider as a secondary benefit.
  • Hybrid insurance policies. Some long-term care insurance policies are designed annuities. With a single premium payment, the insurer provides benefits that can be used for long-term care. You can also buy a deferred long-term care annuity that is specially designed to cover these costs. Some permanent life insurance policies also have long-term care riders.

While long-term care can be costly, most people will not face extremely burdensome long-term care costs because nursing home stays tend to be short, since statistics show that most people died within six months of entering a nursing home. Moreover, the vast majority of elder adults are not in nursing homes, and many never go into them.

Reference: SGE (Dec. 4, 2021) “How to Pay for Long-Term Care”

 

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

How to Protect Assets from Medicaid Spend Down? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Medicaid is not just for poor and low-income seniors. With the right planning, assets can be protected for the next generation, while helping a person become eligible for help with long-term care costs.

Medicaid was created by Congress in 1965 to help with insurance coverage and protect seniors from the costs of medical care, regardless of their income, health status or past medical history, reports Kiplinger in a recent article “How to Restructure Your Assets to Qualify for Medicaid.” Medicaid was a state-managed, means-based program, with broad federal parameters that is run by the individual states. Eligibility criteria, coverage groups, services covered, administration and operating procedures are all managed by each state.

With the increasing cost and need for long-term care, Medicaid has become a life-saver for people who need long-term nursing home care costs and home health care costs not covered by Medicare.

If the household income exceeds your state’s Medicaid eligibility threshold, two commonly used trusts may be used to divert excess income to maintain program eligibility.

QITs, or Qualified Income Trusts. Also known as a “Miller Trust,” income is deposited into this irrevocable trust, which is controlled by a trustee. Restrictions on what the income in the trust may be used for are strict. Both the primary beneficiary and spouse are permitted a “needs allowance,” and the funds may be used for medical care costs and the cost of private health insurance premiums. However, the funds are owned by the trust, not the individual, so they do not count against Medicaid eligibility.

If you qualify as disabled, you may be able to use a Pooled Income Trust. This is another irrevocable trust where your “surplus income” is deposited. Income is pooled together with the income of others. The trust is managed by a non-profit charitable organization, which acts as a trustee and makes monthly disbursements to pay expenses for the individuals participating in the trust. When you die, any remaining funds in the trust are used to help other disabled persons.

Meeting eligibility requirements are complicated and vary from state to state. An estate planning attorney in your state of residence will help guide you through the process, using his or her extensive knowledge of your state’s laws. Mistakes can be costly—and permanent.

For instance, your home’s value (up to a maximum amount) is exempt, as long as you still live there or will be able to return. Otherwise, most states require you to spend down other assets to $2,000 per person or $4,000 per married couple to qualify.

Transferring assets to other people, typically family members, is a risky strategy. There is a five-year look back period and if you have transferred assets, you may not be eligible for five years. If the person you transfer assets to has any personal financial issues, like creditors or divorce, they could lose your property.

Asset Protection Trusts, also known as Medicaid Trusts. You may transfer most or all of your assets into this trust, including your home, and maintain the right to live in your home. Upon your death, assets are transferred to beneficiaries, according to the trust documents.

Right of Spousal Transfers and Refusals. Assets transferred between spouses are not subject to the five-year look back period or any penalties. New York and Florida allow Spousal Refusal, where one spouse can legally refuse to provide support for a spouse, making them immediately eligible for Medicaid. The only hitch? Medicaid has the right to request the healthy spouse to contribute to a spouse who is receiving care but does not always take legal action to recover payment.

Talk with your estate planning attorney if you believe you or your spouse may require long-term care. Consider the requirements and rules of your state. Keep in mind that Medicaid gives you little or no choice about where you receive care. Planning in advance is the best means of protecting yourself and your spouse from the excessive costs of long term care.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 7, 2021) “How to Restructure Your Assets to Qualify for Medicaid”

 

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