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COVID-19 and the Continuing Importance of Powers of Attorney

Certainty in this uncertain time is peace of mind many families are finding themselves without. The Covid-19 pandemic is highlighting harsh realities of life all of us were aware of but chose to ignore. One such reality is the importance of comprehensive and up-to-date estate planning. Many parents, grandparents, established business owners, and seasoned professionals are all awaking everyday to the potential of expensive and long-term hospitalization with the chance of persisting and life-changing health consequences. One can’t fight Covid-19 directly, it isn’t a person or thing to combat with force or wit, however, mitigation and foresight are always available. Estate planning will allow you to proactively get your affairs in order and, worst case scenario, if you become infected, allow you to rapidly and intelligently respond in a way that meets you and your families unique needs. Whether you have no estate plan or are looking to update an existing plan, where should you start? Given the current health crisis, taking a look at your powers of attorney, or POAs, is a good place to start.

Power of Attorney

A comprehensive estate plan provides the instructions necessary for estate administration, via a will, while tax relief and flexibility with asset distribution can be accomplished via trusts. Critical issues and decisions during life, however, must be addressed separately. That is where your powers of attorney come into play. A power of attorney comes in many forms, but its primary purpose is to grant authority to one or more responsible parties to handle financial or health decisions of a person in the event of illness or other incapacity. Life, and its associated obligations and burdens, tend to continue regardless of one’s physical or mental health. As many families are finding out, the bills keep coming due regardless of COVID-19. Powers of attorney are protection that ensures affairs are handled and medical wishes are followed even if you are lacking capacity in mind or body.

In your estate plan you will want both a financial power of attorney and a healthcare power of attorney. Both are agency agreements that grant another individual the authority to make decisions, within a certain sphere of decisions whose terms you dictate, on your behalf. A financial power of attorney, as the name suggests, grants your agent the authority to make financial decisions for you. Managing investments, buying selling land or property, representing you in business negotiations, etc. Healthcare power of attorney works the same way but with healthcare decisions. If you are incapacitated or otherwise can’t decide for yourself, your agent will decide who your doctor is, what treatment you undergo, what medication should be administered, etc.

As always, the terms, powers, and limits for your agents are decided by you in the documents that appoint your agent. If you want to add limits on how long they are appointed, what issues they can or cannot decide, or when exactly their powers manifest, you can do so. Furthermore, you always possess the authority to dismiss them outright or appoint someone new.

Powers of attorney are important to have because spouses or family members will face difficulty and frustration gaining access to things like bank accounts and property that is in your name only. This can be especially damaging within the context of business or professional relations in which the “gears of industry” must keep moving. Regrettably, if an individual trusted to handle the business if something happens doesn’t possess the authority to so, significant or even fatal business consequences may result. The same goes for medical decisions, often treatment decisions must be made right there and then. Hesitation may mean permanent damage or death to you and if someone doesn’t have express authority to make those decisions, things get confusing, messy, and take a lot longer.

If you decide not to draft one or more powers of attorney and you end up incapacitated, then, in certain situations, a court is forced to appoint either a guardian or conservator and the family is effectively cut off from independently managing the relevant affairs of the incapacitated family member. Further, if a court is forced to action, the entire process will take longer, cost more, be public knowledge, and is immensely more complex than it otherwise should be. Having an experienced Ohio estate planning attorney draft the appropriate POAs can avoid a lot of headache and save a lot of money down the line.

Even with the uncertainly pandemics bring, certain estate planning questions always linger. Who will manage my finances and investments if I am sick or incapacitated? Who will pick what doctor treats me or if a risky but potentially lifesaving procedure should be performed? What if I am put on life sustaining medical support? In what situations and for how long will I remain on such support, if I want to be on it at all? These types of issues and questions also must be addressed and accounted for by your estate plan. That is why finding and working with experienced Cleveland estate planning attorneys are so critical. These types of decisions and potential consequences for your life and wellbeing are not things that should be done on the fly or with doctors and stressed out family members demanding a decision. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 cases becoming more and more prevalent with each passing day, the necessity of proper POAs is crystal clear and those without these documents are scrambling to find estate planning attorneys who are open and still taking clients. If your estate planning documents, especially POAs are out of date or incomplete, contact a local estate planning attorney right away. Courthouses and government agencies are closing daily, and you don’t want to find yourself without the stability of critical legal documents during this most unstable time.

COVID-19, for good or ill, has and will continue to change how we live, work, and survive. Fortunately, one aspect of life that has largely gone untouched is estate planning. Estate planning was smart to do before Covid-19 and it still is. Northeast Ohio has felt the touch of this disease like every county in the world has. Cleveland estate planning attorneys are working around the clock to meet the historic demand for quick and immediate estate planning and are currently utilizing more teleconferencing and remote legal services than ever before to make their existing and new clients comfortable and secure. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders are all proactive protection measures that the majority of Americans are following, even if they cause financial hardship or social strain. Estate planning also represents a proactive protection measure, however, it seldom causes any financial or social pain, it actually prevents them. As such, it’s strange that 50% of people don’t even have a simple will. Considering the ongoing crisis, make sure you and your family are in the 50% that protects, not the 50% leaving everything to chance.

Disclaimer:

The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

How to Lower Your Property Tax – Fighting Overvalued County Appraisals

 

What: Property Value Appraisal

Ohio operates on a system in which county auditors reappraise every piece of land and every building located in their county every six years. These base appraised values are then multiplied by local tax rates. This value is what is shown on local county auditor’s website and is often used as a base line when determining potential real estate taxes.

This reappraisal occurs in different counties at different times. Naturally, it is just too much for every local government to reappraise everything all at once. So, Ohio uses staggered reappraisal with different groups of counties undergoing reappraisal or updating during different tax years.

The following counties recently have either finished reappraisals or recently undergone updates:

Update Counties

 

Allen Coshocton
Guernsey Sandusky
Vinton  

 

Reappraisal Counties

 

Belmont Brown Crawford Cuyahoga Erie
Fayette Highland Huron Jefferson Lake
Lorain Lucas Morgan Muskingum Ottawa
Portage Stark Warren Williams  

 

Why: Property Reappraisal and Updating can result in a Bigger Tax Hit

Most importantly with reappraisal and updating, is that they can result in increased property values and consequently increased tax liability. Property owners in particular counties subject to reappraisal or update will see new property values reflected in their property tax bills that arrive in the mail either December or January.  This is an often-overlooked tax consequence that many people fail to plan for and can eat up an otherwise expected, and critical, tax refund. As such, many people desire to keep their property values low, at least in regards to taxation, and want to challenge their county auditor’s assessment of their property value. This is where experienced Cleveland legal attorneys come in.

How: Filing a Complaint to Challenge Property Valuation

The period for filing formal challenges to a county auditor appraisal generally begins January 1 and ends March 31 so contact an attorney sooner rather than later if you want to challenge a recent change in your property value. Generally, property owners can only challenge an assessment one time every three years.

How you challenge an improper auditor valuation is with a complaint filed with your local county board of revision where the property under dispute is located. This complaint is sometimes referred to as a “complaint against valuation” and asks 14 boilerplate questions. Questions such as has the property been sold within the last 3 years, have you made any improvements to the property, and your justifications for requesting a change in value.

This form is found on every county auditor’s website as well as the Ohio Department of Taxation’s website. A lot of individuals challenge land valuation so the process, at least in some ways, is streamlined. Note, however, if the property owner challenging valuation is a business, an attorney must almost always sign the complaint.

The most common reasons property values are challenged include declining market values in a depressed area, functionally and/or economically obsolete properties, declining rents in tandem with vacancies, and damage caused by non-human agency, such as fire, flood, earthquakes, or mold. Further, those who recently purchased a property in an arms-length transaction for less than the county auditor’s value, often have a strong case. Note, however, recent Ohio Supreme Court rulings adjusted the evidentiary rules for property owners looking to use a recent arms-length transaction as a basis to challenge the value of real property. The important takeaway from recent legal rulings is that appraisal evidence must be carefully considered before presentment to the board of revision. As such, experienced legal counsel should be retained before filing any tax appeal.

Once the complaint is filed and received by the board of revision, the board sets an evidentiary hearing. The hearing usually lasts between 15 to 30 minutes and takes place in front of a panel of decisions makers, usually the county auditor, county treasurer, and the president of the Board of County Commissioners. At this hearing, an attorney appears on your behalf and presents arguments, evidence, and witness testimony to prove the actual property value. Depending on the value or discrepancy of the value under dispute, other interested parties, such as local school districts, will appear via their own counsel and argue in favor of the higher value.

After the hearing, the board of revision makes its decision of the value of the real property. If you took the proper steps, gathered the right documents, and hired the right attorney, your property value should be changed to reflect the real value and you can avoid any significant tax hit in the near future.

When: When should I challenge?

As with every legal question asked of every attorney, the answer is always going to be, it depends. But as rule of thumb, if it seems like no rational buyer would purchase your property for what the auditor appraised it, calling your local Cleveland business attorney is probably a good move.

Another critical factor in assessing when to challenge is the sufficiency of evidence currently in your possession. This is where good legal counsel comes in. Attorneys are well-versed in hiring qualified appraisers to determine the initial overvaluing of the property, generating presentable reports for the evidentiary hearing, and identifying the relevant purchase transaction documents. If you are asking for a significant change in value, it is highly likely opposing attorneys will come out of the woodwork to counter your appeal. As such, experienced local counsel is often the difference between a waste of time and money and significant tax saving.

Disclaimer:

The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

Six Month Creditor Claim Blog Photo

Six-Month Creditor Claim Period

Payment of the decedent’s debts is one of the basic responsibilities of an estate fiduciary. Ohio law specifically provides that the fiduciary of an estate shall proceed with diligence to pay the debts of the decedent. The critical questions remain, however, of who to pay and when to pay them. Unless a fiduciary is confident that the estate will have more than enough assets to pay all of the debts of the decedent, it may actually be better not to pay any debts received until the expiration of the creditor’s claim period. Under Ohio law, legitimate creditors have six months to present their claims. When such period expires, only the majority of legitimate debts claims against the estate will remain because if specified claims are not brought timely, they are foreclosed as a matter of law. At this time it can be determined whether or not there are sufficient probate assets with which to pay the debts or if the estate is insolvent. Most people, however, are ignorant of this little wrinkle of Ohio probate law. As such, when a loved one or friend passes, always contact an experienced Ohio probate attorney.

All too often a gung-ho fiduciary starts paying estate debts without a comprehensive accounting of estate assets or complete list of debts and obligations. This results in payment of debts which may have fallen off after the creditor’s claim period or, more seriously, if Ohio statutes are not fully complied during estate administration or assets are prematurely distributed, potential personal liability for a fiduciary. This means that if a surviving spouse, heir, beneficiary, or legitimate creditor should have gotten something from the estate that a fiduciary mistakenly gave away, the fiduciary must personally pay them their share, whatever the amount or value of the asset. This looming threat of personal liability is a significant reason why must appointed fiduciaries seek the counsel of experienced Cleveland estate planning and probate attorneys.

It cannot be understated the significant windfall potential for an estate if the six-month creditor’s claim period is waited out. The difficulty, however, is convincing friends, heirs, and devisees to be patient. Easier said than done. Now, after the debts of the estate are settled and verified and the time has come to pay them, unless the decedent’s will provides otherwise and/or in the absence of sufficient cash or other liquid assets to satisfy the debts, payment is made from the proceeds of the sale of: 1) tangible personal property which has not been specifically devised, then 2) specifically devised tangible personal property, then 3) non-specifically devised real property, and finally 4) specifically devised real property.

Good Ohio legal counselors always advise their client to be wary. A common point, but often overlooked one, of avoiding probate via beneficiary designations or trust usage is privacy. If everything passes via will, anyone anywhere can look up the estate online and see what is going on. A little information in the wrong hands can do a lot of damage. For example, a recent client came into a piece of property of the east side of Cleveland. Naturally, the previous owner failed to property taxes for many years. Lo a behold a nice company called the client and offered to negotiate, settle, then pay off the back taxes, for a nominal fee of course. Client, being uninformed, agreed on the spot and gave out his credit card information. The estate had been closed for quite some time, way past the six month creditor claim period, and now the client has new problems to deal with. All this could have been avoided with a quick 30-second phone call with their Cleveland estate planning attorney, don’t make the same mistake they did.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

Wage Garnishment

Wage Garnishment Guide For Employers

Not everyone pays rent on time, pays child support, or pays back a debt in full. Recently, wage garnishment has become a popular option for individuals or businesses to collect on debts or outstanding obligations.  Wage garnishment is rarely a method of first resort, it is time-consuming and stressful, but often creditors are left with little option. Any human resources officer or treasurer will agree, they are never excited to receive papers from the local court regarding a wage garnishment on an employee. Though instructions almost always accompany orders for wage garnishment, it is smart business to have at least a basic understanding of wage garnishments and your duties as the employer. No business wants a minor annoyance to turn into a significant problem due to carelessness.   

  • What is Wage Garnishment? 

First step, as always, is to define wage garnishment. A wage garnishment occurs when a creditor attempts to petition a court to withdraw money directly from a debtor’s paycheck. There are many different types of garnishment but wage garnishment specifically targets the debtor’s income stream via direct deductions from their paychecks. Money is taken out based on a specific amount decreed by a court and a creditor receives this money bit by bit until the debt is repaid.   

Both Ohio and federal wage garnishment law limit the maximum amount that can be taken from a debtor’s paycheck, usually approximately 25% of the wages to be garnished. Also, depending on the date of filing and date a debt accrued, bankruptcy may release a debtor from their obligation to payback a debt. Further, Ohio law provides debtor exemption limits on money and property that are eligible to be garnished. But for employers whose employees are being pursued for a wage garnishment, there are procedures and rules they must follow when they receive official notice of a court proceeding to collect a debt because, at the end of the day, the employer is sending someone else’s hard-earned money to satisfy a debt this person cannot or does not want to pay.     

  • As an employer, what does wage garnishment entail? 

Initially, you will receive a packet of documents from the court. This is usually multiple copies of the affidavit, order, and notice of garnishment and answer of employer, multiple copies of the notice to the judgment debtor and request for hearing, and, usually, single copies of both the interim and final report and answer of garnishee. An employer has anywhere between five and seven business days from the receipt of the court documents to respond to the court, i.e. mail back the affidavit, order, and notice of garnishment and answer of employer respectively. One copy is returned to the court, one is kept for your records, and one goes to the employee. Instructions on how to respond will be on the paperwork and the party filing for garnishment is responsible in filling in certain important information, like the total amount of the debt and rate of interest. The employee subject to garnishment will also receive two copies of the notice to the judgment debtor and request for hearing forms.  

Employers are ordered to begin withholding wage on the first full pay period after the employer receives the garnishment. The amount of withholding is capped at 25% after all allowable deductions are taken out, but the precise amount to be withheld is on the employer to calculate correctly based upon the information provided in the garnishment documents. The garnishment will continue until the debt is paid in full or until a court order is received telling the business toc cease garnishment. Unfortunately, processing wage garnishments aren’t as simple as sending a check to the court. Particular paperwork and accounting must be filed at statutorily defined times, such as a copy of the Interim Report form within 30 days after the end of each employee pay period and Final Report form after the debt is paid in full. Consult with an experienced Cleveland business attorney if you have any questions about your responsibilities or obligations as an employer.  

  • How long must an employee’s wages be garnished?  

An employer must withhold funds until one of the following occurs: 1) the debt is paid in full, 2) the creditor terminates the garnishment, 3) a court appoints a trustee and halts the garnishment, 4) filing of a bankruptcy proceeding, 5) a garnishment of higher priority is received (however, if the higher priority garnishment does not take the maximum amount that can be withheld, the remainder should be used to satisfy the other garnishment.), 6) another garnishment is received from a different creditor and the old garnishment has been processed for a certain length of time as denoted in the local court rules, see an attorney if this circumstance arises.   

  • What if an employer refuses to process a wage garnishment?  

Processing wage garnishments are a pain for businesses and they are only entitled to deduct $3.00 per garnishment transaction. Naturally, the next question is, why do them at all? Well, the wage garnishment documents are essentially an order from the court and disregarding or ignoring them can open a business up to contempt of court proceedings. Contempt can result in fines, damages for attorney’s fees, and court costs, and, in the end, the contempt business will still be forced to process the wage garnishment. Thus, ignoring and failing to respond or process to wage garnishment is not a viable option, and since employers only have a few days to respond, complete and return mail the forms as soon as received. Every business attorney will say the same thing, you don’t have it like it, just do it.  

Note, simply firing the relevant employee is not an option either, an employer may not discharge an employee solely because of a garnishment by only one creditor within any one year. Even in the case of multiple and habitual wage garnishments, always consult an experienced Ohio business attorney before terminating an employee solely for this cause. 

 

Business Attorney Baron Law

The Difference Between Business As Usual And Bankruptcy. Here Are Two Ohio Laws That All Business Owners Must Know!

Every business and every business owner should be aware if and how the Consumer Sales Protection Act (“CSPA”) and/or the Home Solicitation Sales Act (“HSSA”) effects their business. On the first day of law school, every new law student learns that ignorance of the law is no defense. The same applies to business owners. In the context of CSPA or HSSA violations, being unaware of the law, which in turn leads to noncompliance of the law, can open you up to thousands of dollars in damages, discretionary rescission of expensive contracts, and ruin your hard-earned professional reputation. The CSPA and HSSA are lengthy statutes which cover a multitude of business and scenarios and, as such, require an experienced hand to walk you through all the wrinkles and hurdles. If your personal knowledge of these statutes is lacking, never hesitate to contact an experienced Cleveland business attorney. A little forethought now, can save you a whole lot later.    

  • What is the CSPA and HSSA? 

The Ohio CSPA is located under Chapter 1345 of the Ohio Revised code. In a nutshell, the CSPA prohibits “suppliers” from committing unfair or deceptive acts or practices in connection with a “consumer transaction.” Naturally who is and is not a “supplier” and what is or is not a “consumer transaction” under the CSPA are pivotal first points of analysis. Further, the CSPA does not stand alone. The CSPA works in conjunction with Ohio’s HSSA. Again, to simplify everything, the CSPA is a list of things considered unfair or deceptive acts or practices and denotes potential avenues for redress of legal grievances for harmed customers. On top of the CSPA, the HSSA also provides an additional list of things considered unfair or deceptive acts or practices and denotes potential avenues for redress of legal grievances for harmed customers but with slightly different triggering circumstances, i.e. the existence of a home solicitation sale, hence the name, and different recovery options for customers.  

  • Why should business owners care about the CSPA and HSSA? 

Many businesses and industries are subject to the laws and requirements of the CSPA and HSSA without even knowing it. Thus, these businesses are running around selling services and completing jobs all the while exposing themselves to massive amounts of potential liability. Remember, ignorance of the law is no defense and all it takes is one persnickety consumer to ruin your whole fiscal year and eat all your profits through litigation.   

In the context of home improvement, residential contractors, HVAC, roofers, electricians, landscapers, concrete work, repairs companies, and other home sale situations, to name only few, if a company has committed an unfair and deceptive trade practice, a consumer often has 1) the right to cancel the agreement, 2) receive a full refund, and 3) depending on the circumstances may not even have to return any materials or pay for any labor already performed.  

The CSPA includes a non-exclusive list of specific acts and practices that are conclusively “unfair and deceptive” and therefore violate Ohio law. The CSPA, via the HSSA, also includes specific “home solicitation sale” remedies, one of which includes a statutory right to a three-day right to cancel period when the contract is signed at the consumer’s residence. Every seller must notify the buyer of his or her right to cancel the sale and provide the buyer with a “Notice of Cancellation” form that the buyer can use to cancel the sale, both the notice and the form to cancel have specific statutory requirements. If the supplier fails to include notice and proper language regarding this 3-day right in the contract or use the proper forms, consumers are entitled to cancel their agreement whenever they wish because the 3-day timer never started. Courts have said in these situations that the right to cancel never expired, even many years after the job was done. Only following the law by delivering proper documents does a supplier start the clock. In turn, this allows homeowners to bring a claim for a refund or to get out of paying money owed on a contract well after the two-year statute of limitations under the CSPA has run out. 

  • Recent changes in the CSPA and HSSA. 

As previously stated, the CSPA and HSSA together represent a list of unfair and deceptive trade practices which often triggers liability for the offending company. Ohio Senate Bill 227, which became effective on April 6, 2017, added a new practice to this list that is conclusively violative, as in if you do it, legally there is no discussion over whether it was “unfair and deceptive” under the CSPA, it just is. This new violation is: 

“[T]he failure of a supplier to obtain or maintain any registration, license, bond, or insurance required by state law or local ordinance for the supplier to engage in the supplier’s trade or profession is an unfair or deceptive act or practice.” 

In short, under current Ohio law, even the most careful and observant supplier can violate the CSPA/HSSA by failing to timely renew any registration, license, bond, or insurance that the supplier is required to maintain under state or local law. As such, ignorance can no longer be the standard operating procedure for services such as HVAC, electrical, plumbing or refrigeration work, and other suppliers of home services. Further, for businesses who use outside contractors or other temporary workers, the risk is even more severe. Now you must be sure not only are you and your employees bonded and licensed, but any contractors have the proper paper work as well, even though technically, they are not your employees. Often courts find the burden is on the business to make due diligence and ensure compliance, responsibility must fall somewhere, and it sure isn’t going to fall on the consumer. 

Furthermore, albeit a more minor change, Senate Bill 227 also updates the Notice of Cancellation requirements under the HSSA to include fax or e-mail options, which the supplier must provide. In turn, the customer/buyer can now cancel the sale by delivering the Notice of Cancellation “in person or manually” or by “facsimile transmission or electronic mail” to the seller. As such, even a minor oversight such as not including fax or e-mail cancellations options on standard forms can open up a world of litigation pain on an unknowing business. 

A law without consequences is a paper tiger. You may ask yourself, who cares if technically my business engages in unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Well, for CSPA and HSSA violations, often customers are entitled to triple damages and attorney’s fees, good for them, bad for business owners. No stretch of the imagination to see a couple of CSPA/HSSA lawsuits can kill a profitable business real quick. Notice, under Ohio law it doesn’t matter if failure of compliance was willful or inadvertent, the only thing that matters is did you break the law. This is why it is important to maintain a good and ongoing relationship with a local Cleveland business attorney. Often the legal requirements for local business are buried deep within local ordinances and administrative code. Remember, what you don’t know can hurt you and, just like everything else with a business, it is on owners to stay current, but most especially, compliant with any recent changes in Ohio law.  

 

Estate Planning Attorney

What Is The Difference Between A Living And Testamentary Trust?

Your estate plan consists of many documents and covers a lot of bases. From protecting assets from creditors and litigants to avoiding probate, a comprehensive estate plan protects you while you’re living and provides for loved ones after death. Because estate plans are, by design, comprehensive, a lot of legal jargon is thrown around and often it’s difficult to keep track of all the nuance and detail. Durable powers of attorney, QTIP elections, unlimited martial deduction, and all the many names of the many different types of trusts, to name a few.  

That said, one of the most common questions posed during an initial estate planning consultation is, what is the difference between a living and a testamentary trust? Years ago testamentary trusts were all the rage, a lot of people have them but don’t know how they work or if they are even providing any benefits to the ultimate goals of estate planning. Since trusts represent one of the most utilitarian estate planning tools, in that they have the ability to do many useful and advantageous things in regards to estate planning, understanding the difference between living and testamentary trusts is critical to providing context to any advice given by Ohio estate planning attorneys.  

  • What is trust? 

As always, we must start with the basics, what is a trust? A trust, to put it simply, is a private agreement that allows a third party, a trustee, to manage the assets that are placed inside the trust for the benefit of trust beneficiaries. There are innumerable types of trusts, each with own its respective legal conventions and purposes. A critical aspect of trusts is that the assets housed within them usually aren’t counted as a part of the trust creator’s taxable estate. Thus, when the owner of the trust creates the trust and properly funds it, the assets go from the owner’s taxable estate to the trust. Afterwards, when the owner dies, the assets are not in the owner’s estate and subject to probate. 

  • What is a living trust? 

A living trust, also called an inter-vivos trust, is simply a trust created when you are alive. They can be either revocable and irrevocable and when someone is talking about a trust, usually it’s a living trust. Living is the umbrella term for a trust and is usually paired with other descriptive terms such as family, asset protection, or revocable or irrevocable to describe the primary purpose of the trust and what it is designed to do. Living trusts must have the same basic composition as other normal trusts, a grantor, trustee, and beneficiary.   

  • What is a testamentary trust? 

A testamentary trust is created in your last will and testament, specifically, it directs your executor of the estate to create it.  Thus, unlike a living trust, a testamentary trust will not take effect until you die.  The terms of the trust are amendable and revocable, in that they can be changed at any time, which makes sense because it doesn’t come into being until after death.  

One of the major distinguishing features of a testamentary trust is the involvement of the local probate court. From the time of the settlor’s death until the expiration of the testamentary trust, the probate court checks up on the trust to make sure it is being managed properly. Court involvement is usually sought in the context of testamentary trusts because these trusts are usually created for beneficiaries who, for some reason, are unable to received and manage trust funds appropriately.  

  • When would you use one over the other?  

At the end of the day, just like every other estate planning decision, it is all circumstantial and highly depend on personal situation and estate planning goals. (Which is why estate planning attorneys ask so many questions when you first meet them.) For the sake of some definitive answer, however, there are some tried and true situations when one is preferable over the other.  

If you are interested in avoiding probate, avoiding excessive court oversight, keeping your estate private, and saving your estate money by simplifying property conveyances and avoiding potential will contests, then a living will is likely a good choice. As mentioned before, since living trusts can be created to meet almost any goal or concern of estate planning, the major deciding factors of use is initial cost and ultimate utility of a trust, i.e. there is no point buying a trust if you have nothing to fund it with.   

Testamentary trusts, on the other hand, are created for young children who may be at risk of receiving improper inheritances or trust distributions, family members with disabilities, or other who may get large amounts of money or assets that enter into the estate upon a testator’s death. Further, these trusts are often highly recommended for parents who are at risk of dying at the same time. 

A testamentary trust can set parameters on your estate and how it will be distributed and/or managed after you pass on.  For example, you might include terms that allow for discretionary distributions of $1,000 a month to be given to your children until the age of 21 in the event both parents pass. This ensure that, even if tragedy strikes, the kids will, at least in some way, be supported by their parents, whether they’re gone or not.  At the end of the day, testamentary trusts, like all trusts, allows estate control even after death. Testamentary trusts are unique, however, in that the allow for greater oversight, via the courts, in what’s going on inside the trust. This can be a double-edged sword, however, in that, depending on how long the court needs to be involved, legal fees and administrative costs could add up making this trust structure unattractive if the trust is designed to last a long time.  

Again, dependent on the circumstances, such as estate planning goals, family structure, available estate assets, either or both types of trusts may be advantageous to use. A Cleveland estate planning attorney is in the best position to judge what is most appropriate for a given situation.

 

Charitable Trust Attorney

Thinking Of Giving To A Charity? Consider A Charitable Remainder Trust.

Significant and stable retirement income, reduction in taxes, whether income, capital gains, or estate respectively, and the provision of critical needed support for worthy charitable organizations and endeavors. If any, or all, of these sound good to you and your estate planning goals, charitable remainder trusts might be a useful option. Charitable remainder trusts, not to be confused with charitable lead trusts, is a way many people are planning for retirement but also “paying it forward.”  

  • What is a Charitable Remainder Trust? 

A charitable remainder trust is a type of irrevocable trust. Irrevocable trusts are trusts in which the grantor, you, relinquishes all control and ownership over the trust and the assets used to fund the trust. Thus, the trust cannot be changed or canceled without the beneficiaries’ permission. Prior to trust formation, the grantor can dictate whatever terms desired to govern the trust, but after formation, those terms control independent of grantor’s wishes and desires. 

What makes an ordinary irrevocable trust in to a charitable remainder trust are a few unique characteristics. Namely, the guiding purpose of the trust and the remainder interest. First, usually, the primary goals with a charitable remainder trust is to reduce taxes and provide additional retirement income. The namesake charitable remainder, however, denotes that eventually, after the grantor passes, whatever is left over in the trust, the remainder, is given to a chosen charity.   

  • How do Charitable Remainder Trusts help pay for retirement? 

The name of game is tax reduction and maximizing potential income production, but how do charitable remainder trusts accomplish this. In a nutshell, it begins with transferring high valued assets into an irrevocable trust, thus initially avoiding estate taxes when making the trust.  

After funding, assets are then sold by the trustee, thus avoiding capital gains on the sale, and these proceeds are reinvested into income producing assets, which can add to available retirement income. Additionally, after you pass, the whatever is left in trust, the remainder, passes on to the charitable beneficiary. The precise manner how a grantor will receive income is usually either a fixed distribution rate via percentage value of appreciated assets or a flat amount of actual income earned by trust assets.   

It should be noted, that charitable remainder trusts should not be viewed as the primary vehicle in which an individual will pay for retirement, these trusts really supplement income more than anything. This reality is largely due to the nature of these trusts. A large trust funding takes full advantage of the associated tax breaks, has the ability to earn significant and usable income for retirement expenses based off the initial principle funding, and, at the end of life, represent a charitable contribution large enough to actually make a different in the world. Thus, if an estate is healthy enough in which a charitable remainder trust is an attractive option, usually the grantor(s) have a lesser concern with the financials of old age.  

  • How are Charitable Remainder Trusts taxed?  

At initial funding of a charitable remainder trust, estate tax is avoided on the assets placed in trust and an immediate charitable income tax deduction is enjoyed. The charitable income tax deduction often bumps the grantor down to a lower tax bracket for the year. Additionally, capital gains are avoided when the trustee liquidates trust assets for reinvestment.  

Regarding annual personal income tax for monies distributed from the trust, this is usually paid per your individual income tax rate, however, often at this point in people’s lives, when they are no longer personally working, and most money and assets have already been transferred into various estate planning tools, people are often in the lowest tax bracket. Further, though distributions from a charitable remainder trust are taxable income, often, if proper estate planning was implemented, the total amount for a taxable estate is so low for a person that distributions for a charitable remainder trust are, for all intents and purposes, tax free. 

  • Do I give up control over what I put in my Charitable Remainder Trust? 

No, the trustee you select to manage the trust will govern the trust and its assets according to the rules and terms you dictate at creation. You are always in control. Further, grantors may retain the right to change the trustee if they are doing a poor job or change the charity to another qualified charity without losing any past or future tax advantages.  

  • If I help out my favorite charity with a Charitable Remainder Trusts, won’t my children be mad? 

The happiness of your friends and family all comes down to proper planning. For those people with sizable estates, it is no problem to leave significant money to both children and favorite charities, there’s more than enough for everyone. There is a common concern, however, that people with modest estates don’t have the option to charitably bequest anything, I mean, there’s only so much to go around right?  

Not exactly. Yes, it is correct that money and assets are finite, but, with the income tax savings inherent in using a charitable remainder trust, a person always has the option to either fund an irrevocable life insurance trust or buy a life insurance policy outright. Either way, the life insurance purchased with the tax savings can replace the full value of any assets left to charity and make sure any surviving children receive their full inheritance as well. Using life insurance, via trust or ordinary policy, also avoids probate concerns and income taxes. Estate tax and asset protection concerns, however, on any policy proceeds will only be addressed through the use of a life insurance trust. Ensuring children aren’t left out in the cold when it comes to inheritance is a major concern for most people, make sure your Ohio estate planning attorney is giving a comprehensive rundown of all of your estate planning options, life insurance options included.      

If you think a charitable remainder trust could help you and your family, speak with your Ohio estate planning attorney. You can convert appreciated assets into lifetime income. You can receive an immediate charitable income tax deduction. You can remove assets from your estate, thus reducing estate taxes. And since no capital gains apply when the assets are sold, you receive more to reinvest in income generating property. All of which is in addition to make a substantial gift to your favorite charity.  

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

Estate Planning Attorney

Are Your Parents in a Nursing Home? Here Are Ways to Prevent Medicaid Estate Recovery

Medicaid crisis planning has become a hot topic in estate planning. More people need Medicaid to survive the issues and problems of old age but very few actually take the time to address and plan for this all too important need. Contrary to popular belief, Medicaid is not free money. Medicaid is a needs based state and federal program which applicability is primarily focused on recipient income and assets. By waiting too long, though a person may have a sever need for Medicaid support, in the eyes of the program, they’re “too rich” to qualify. At this point, they are left waiting in a state of poverty or sacrificing a lifetime of investment and savings, the spend down, to qualify. Don’t let this happen to you.

Since Medicaid enrollment is surging across the country and the baby boomer generation is aging, the significance of Medicaid enrollment and planning cannot be understated. As always, contact a local Cleveland estate planning attorney to find out how to plan your estate to maintain eligibility for Medicaid, preserve the maximum amount of assets possible while still maintaining that eligibility, and avoid or proactively plan around the Ohio Medicaid Estate Recovery program, “MER”. The MER program is something not a lot of people have heard of, but it can potentially effect millions of senior citizens every year. The government doesn’t care that you’ve heard of the law, only that it is followed.

What is the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program?

The Medicaid Estate Recovery program is a federally mandated program which dictates that when a Medicaid recipient dies, the MER program, carried out by the Ohio Attorney general’s office, will attempt to recover from the estate what Medicaid paid for the services provided. Generally, the program will attempt to recover any medical assistance paid by Medicaid if 1) the Medicaid recipient was aged 55 years or older, 2) the Medicaid benefits were correctly paid, and 3) the recipient was permanently institutionalized, like residing in a nursing home or PASSPORT facility.

What assets are recoverable?

For purposes of the MER, the state uses an expansive definition of “estate assets,” which includes any property a Medicaid recipient had any legal ownership interest in at the time of death. Such as assets in a living trust, assets owned jointly, real property tenancies, and TOD and POD designated assets. After death, even property Medicaid determined exempt during a recipient’s lifetime, such as a house accompanied with an intent to return, household goods, or life insurance policies, are subject to recovery. That is why to be aware of the Medicaid lookback period and plan asset ownership and transfer accordingly.

What assets are except?

As a starting point, remember that to qualify for Medicaid, an individual’s countable resources must be below $1500. The good news, however, is that exempt resources and assets do not count towards this total, at least initially. The following is a non-exhaustive list of exempt resources from Medicaid.

  • One automobile – if less than $4500 or any value to the non-institutionalized spouse. This is associated with the Community Spouse Resource Allowance, consult your estate planning attorney for more information.
  • Household goods – plates, clothes, books, etc.
  • Burial plots – burial plot, gravesite, casket, urn, etc.
  • Prepaid burials
  • Qualified Medicaid annuities
  • Qualified Long-term Care Insurance Policies – these are special insurance products that most insurance companies don’t carry, contract your insurance agent. These polices provide LTC in order to avoid depleting assets spent on Medicaid for long-term care.
  • Primary residence – exempt if non-institutionalized spouse or child under 21 who is blind or disabled is living there. Institutionalized spouse can claim primary residence exemption if obtain affidavit of intent to return.
  • Sale of a house – very nuanced exemption rules but, in a nut shell, if actively attempting to sell a house and if you follow Medicaid regulations, though technically you still own property that would make not you Medicaid ineligible, this ownership and sale won’t effect eligibility.

Exemptions to Medicaid countable resources aren’t really considered in most estate plans, even those specifically geared towards preserving assets and ensuring Medicaid qualification. They do, however, become of critical importance in the context of Medicaid crisis planning. Those situations where Medicaid support is needed immediately but no proper estate planning took place in the proceedings years when Medicaid eligibility wasn’t a concern. At this point, every avenue and tactic of getting into Medicaid and sheltering estate assets is analyzed, all at the expense of the family who failed to plan is now scrambling. As any estate planning attorney or financial planner will tell you, the up-front cost of proactively planning is nothing compared to doing everything last minute in a time of dire need.

Most people have spent a lifetime amassing wealth, property, and possessions that they want to leave to friends and family. Assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and hospice care, however, are often possibilities no one contemplates, let alone proactively prepares for. Federal and state assistance programs such as Medicaid often play a critical role in providing the necessary financial support in our elder years. The MER program, however, means that the use of these programs is not without cost. A cost that is regularly not understood when the need is greatest and rarely known by the surviving family when estate assets are taken by the government for services rendered. An estate planning attorney has the knowledge and can formulate the appropriate strategies for your goals and worries to ensure that the most amount of assets go where you want them to go and not to Uncle Sam.

You don’t have to be rich to protect what you’ve spent a lifetime trying to build. To find out whether a trust is right for your family, take the one-minute questionnaire at www.DoIneedaTrust.com. There are a number of different trusts available and the choices are infinite. With every scenario, careful consideration of every trust planning strategy should be considered for the maximum asset protection and tax savings.

Baron Law Cleveland Ohio

Planning for Crisis: Advance Directives

Estate planning is an expansive concept. Fundamentally, estate planning seeks to create a detailed plan for your finances, healthcare, and assets for the reminder of life and after death, to the extent physically possible and within the means of the estate planner. Though it would be nice if a crystal ball existed and told us what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, estate planning must resort to educated guesses and client preference.

An experienced Cleveland estate planning attorney knows there are limitations on his abilities. Some matters can’t be foreseen or preplanned for, such as changes in relevant law or undisclosed heirs or assets. There are also limitations brought on by estate planning clients themselves, such as financial restrictions or outright refusal to take the advice of experienced counsel or professionals.  These limits aside, most people looking to plan their estate are concerned with the usual issues affecting us all. Principally, ways to ensure money exists for the rest of life and instructions and preferences regarding necessary medical care. For most, the extent necessary medical care is planned for extends only to telling adult children whether or not they want to be kept alive in the event of a coma or other traumatic injury. Needless to say, this is not good enough and will most likely be forgotten or disregarded. Any Ohio estate planner worth their salt would not let you get away with such half-measures regarding critical medical treatment, and this brings us to advance directives.

What are advance directives and why do I need them?

Simply put, advance directives are legal documents that provide detailed instructions about who should oversee your medical treatment and what your end-of-life or life-sustaining wishes are. Thus, in the event you are unable to speak for yourself, such in the event of coma, traumatic injury, or terminal disease, your family and medical professionals can refer to your advance directives and find out what you want to do.

There are multiple advance directive documents which convey your medical wishes and/or gives authority to another to make medical decisions on your behalf. Which particular document is needed is highly dependent on your medical circumstances, usually focusing on the type of medical treatment contemplated/needed and whether or not you have capacity to make medical decisions yourself. Though there exists many advance directive documents out there, the two most common are healthcare powers of attorney and living wills.

Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney

A healthcare power of attorney allows you to appoint a trusted person to make all healthcare decisions in the event that 1) you become terminally ill and are unable to make your own healthcare decisions or 2) are either temporarily or permanently unable to make medical decisions for yourself. The person you designate with this authority has the power to carry out your wishes and make all other necessary decisions about your medical treatment and other healthcare matters.

Make sure after completing your healthcare power of attorney to at least file it with your primary care physician/provider. The document cannot act to protect you if no one knows about it or knows where it is. Though similar to your financial power of attorney, a healthcare power of attorney only concerns issues of medical treatment. Both work in concert to provide whomever you chose to act in your best interest the legal authority to do so. Talk with your Cleveland estate planning attorney to make sure your powers of attorney are valid and up-to-date.

Living Will

Your living will, sometimes called a healthcare proxy, is almost always paired with your healthcare power of attorney. A living will is a document that conveys your particular instructions to certain medical situations, principally impending death or prolonged terminal conditions, i.e. accepting or declining of life saving medical care. Lesser issues, such blood transfusions or non-life threatening organ or tissue transplants are covered under a healthcare power of attorney. That is why it is important to have both in effect, so all your bases are covered.

Often estate planning clients say that they have communicated their wishes about life sustaining treatment, however, often how it really turns out, friends and family are unaware of an incapacitated person’s medical directives or they may choose to discount or ignore previous conversations, believing that you will pull through against all odds and medical advice. By memorializing your medical directives via a living will, medical staff will consult the document at the appropriate time and carry out your wishes. This takes the stress of critical care decisions off the shoulders of loved ones and removes any opportunity for foul play or misinterpretation. Be sure to consult with your Ohio estate planning attorney to make sure your living will is up-to-date and complies with any recent changes in Ohio law.

Other Types of Advance Directives: DNR’s and Donor Registry Forms

 It is worth noting a few additional advance directive documents as well, namely Do Not Resuscitate Orders and Organ/Tissue Donor Registry Enrollment Forms. Both documents respectively seek to further clarify your medical wishes. DNRs are used when a medical emergency occurs and alerts medical personnel that a person does not wish to receive CPR in the even that the heart or breathing stops.  Organ/Tissue Donor Registry Enrollment Forms supplement your healthcare power of attorney and living will in that it ensures your wishes concerning organ and tissue donation will be honored.

 The general rule is advance directives only come into effect when you are unable to make you own decisions about medical treatment. All advance directive documents allow you to plan ahead by sharing your healthcare instructions with your doctors and family if you become unable, even only temporarily, to make medical decisions yourself. Advance directives help ensure your wishes are followed if you become seriously injured or unconscious. Contact a local estate planning attorney and make sure your have these important documents in place.

About the author: Mike E. Benjamin, Esq.

Mike is a contracted attorney at Baron Law LLC who specializes in civil litigation, estate planning, and probate law. He is a member of the Westshore Bar Association, the Ohio State Bar Association, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association for the Northern District of Ohio. He can be reached at mike@baronlawcleveland.com.

Family Law

Divorcing Late In Life? Estate Planning Considerations You Need To Know.

Unfortunately, “till death do us part” doesn’t seem to have the same weight or meaning that it had back in the day. Per the American Psychological Association, more than 90 percent of people marry by the age of 50, however, more than 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Further, the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher. An often-neglected aspect of divorce is the chaos it often makes of a well-crafted estate plan. Usually, the consequences of divorce in the context of estate planning isn’t realized until too late and significant time and money are wasted. The good news, however, is that these problems are easily avoided with a little foresight, or at least competent counsel from your Ohio estate planning attorney. Note, your estate planning attorney can only protect you if he knows what is going on, so, if any significant life events have occurred recently in your life, call your attorney and see if anything needs to be done.  

  • Why divorce matters in estate planning.  

First step in fixing or avoiding a problem is understanding what the problem is. So, why is divorce so significant in the context of estate planning? At the end of the day, it all focuses around who gets what and when. With marriage, in the eyes of the law, two people become one. Thus, both are owners, and both have entitlements when they split. Figuring out a fair split of all the property of marriage is regularly a contentious, long, and expensive process.  

This commingling of assets is what makes divorce so difficult, even if prenuptial agreements are in place. What’s considered separate property? What’s considered joint? Definitions vary by state, but in general separate property includes any property owned by either spouse prior to the marriage and any inheritances or gifts received by either spouse, before or during the marriage. Trusts can be used to house assets in separate ownership from a spouse, but this is not an airtight defense. Careful management and access restrictions must be drafted in the trust documents because, in the event of divorce, you can bet your bottom dollar your soon-to-be ex-spouse’s attorney will use all his wit and guile to get at whatever is in trust. 

On the opposite side, marital property is typically any property that is acquired during the marriage, regardless of which spouse owns or holds title to the property. This is almost always subject to equitable division during divorce, again, a prenuptial is no guarantee, recent case law is full of court decisions disregarding these agreements for a variety of reasons.  

Always remember that marital property isn’t just houses and cars but also pension plans, 401(k)s, IRAs, stock options, life insurance, closely held businesses and more. Further, if separately owned property increases in value during the marriage, that increase is also considered marital property. As a rule, if something holds value, it will be fought over during divorce.  Due to the complexities involved when it comes to dividing assets, a marital property agreement can help clear up any confusion surrounding the ownership of assets, but this alone is insufficient protection if you fall on the wrong side of the 50 percent divorce rate.  

  • Divorce Estate Planning Strategies  

After the long and arduous task of dividing assets, the next step is to reorganize an estate plan to match the new realities of your life. After divorce, but especially if remarriage is a possibility trusts should be established to protect your self-interests and children of your previous marriage, wills must be rewritten, often to at least counter an existing will which named a now ex-spouse as executor, and beneficiary designations must be changed, designations which often were made years ago and given little, if any, thought.   

  • Establish Trusts  

A trust, to put it simply, is a private agreement that allows a third party, a trustee, to manage the assets that are placed inside the trust for the benefit of trust beneficiaries. There are innumerable types of trusts, each with own its respective legal conventions and purposes. Trusts come in many forms and are established to accomplish many different things. A revocable living trust fits most situations and can serve as the foundation of your estate plan. While not all trusts are created equally and not all trusts afford the same level of protection, without fail trusts provide greater protection for beneficiaries than outright distributions. 

  • Update Beneficiary Designations 

To guarantee your estate planning goals are met and your money goes where you want it to, ensure that all beneficiary forms and designations are updated following marriage, divorce, or re-marriage. Life insurance proceeds and retirement accounts often represent significant portions of your estate, as such, beneficiary designations should generally pay the proceeds to your trust, if designated correctly. Trust utilization allows control while allowing these proceeds pass directly to an individual represents a risk of mismanagement or squandering. 

  • Update Last Will and Testament  

At the beginning of every will there is language specifically disavowing all previous wills and codicils. This is included as boilerplate language because people forget to do it regularly. In the same vein, especially in the context of divorce or remarriage, update your will to reflect your current familial situation. Personal property bequest, executor appointments, and guardian designations all should be current and accurately reflected in your will.   

  • Adequate Bookkeeping  

Knowledge is power and what you don’t know can hurt you. Regularly go through documents, make important designations current, and account for all of your assets. Outdated information and kill a well-drafted will, trusts, and/or beneficiary designation form. Oversights and neglect can cause estate planning headaches that are easily avoided with a little effort and regular meetings with your Cleveland estate planning attorney. 

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future