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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

Daniel A Baron - Estate Planning Lawyer

What Is An Irrevocable Trust?

Cleveland, Ohio estate planning lawyer, Daniel A. Baron, offers the following information as to whether or not you should have an Irrevocable Trust as part of your comprehensive estate planning.

An Irrevocable Trust, by design cannot be modified in any fashion or terminated without the express written consent of the beneficiary or beneficiaries. Once the trust is created it stands AS IS and cannot be changed at all, notwithstanding a few exceptions.

  • Perhaps a beneficiary needs to be changed
  • Perhaps a financial institution may need clarification of a Trustees Identity
  • The beneficiary may need to terminate the trust early due to an immediate need for a large expense

Why would there exist a need for an Irrevocable Trust?

  • It protects your property held in Trust against creditors
  • It minimizes your estate tax liability
  • If you are looking to qualify for government assistance programs, i.e., Medicaid or Veterans Aid and Attendance benefits

There are three parties to a Trust:

First Party: The “Grantor” or “Settlor” who is the person or persons who establishes the trust. Keep in mind that when the Irrevocable Trust is established the “grantor” or “settlor” relinquishes all control of the assets held within the trust.

Second Party: The Trustee who are appointed by the “Grantor” or “Settlor” whose responsibilities include overseeing the assets, investments, etc., and to pay any expenses which benefits to beneficiary

Third Party:   The Beneficiary whose job it is, is to sit back relax and benefit from the income generated by the investments within the trust.

Let’s start the conversation to see if an Irrevocable Trust is the right tax planning strategy for you as part of your Comprehensive Estate Planning. For more information on reviewing your goals for your Comprehensive Estate Planning, contact Daniel A. Baron of Baron Law today at 216-573-3723.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

 

Daniel A Baron Estate Planning lawyer

What Is A Revocable Trust?

Cleveland, Ohio estate planning lawyer, Daniel A. Baron, offers the following information as to whether or not you should have a Revocable Trust as part of your comprehensive estate planning.

When you decide it is time to do your estate planning, one decision to make is: Do I Need A Trust? If the answer is yes, then the next question is whether or not a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust is the right tool to use in your Comprehensive Estate Planning.  Although both of these are created to avoid probate, there are differences between the two.

A Revocable Trust means you can change things at any time such as;

  • Beneficiaries
  • Add items of value to the trust or remove items from the trust and so on.
  • Changing Trustees
  • Change what funds the trust
  • Eliminate the trust
  • Change amounts to be funded
  • Add Trustees

With a Revocable Trust – the Grantor or Settlor creates the trust AND can also act as the Trustee AND can be named as the beneficiary.

An Irrevocable Trust means no changes can be made (with a few exceptions) once the trust is created.

An Irrevocable Trust has three parties to the Trust; the Grantor or Settlor, the Trustee(s), and the beneficiary or beneficiaries.

  1. The Grantor or Settlor is the person who funds or establishes the Trust
  2. The Trustee is the person who oversees the trust, and
  3. The beneficiary reaps the rewards of the income generated by the investments of the trust. Although the Grantor / Settlor and the beneficiary can be the same, they cannot act as the Trustee

With a Revocable Trust you must remember if you are looking to keep investments, bank accounts, property, and any other such asset as part of the trust, the accounts must be set up in the trusts name and property must be titled to the trust.  Failure to do this while you are still living means that the assets still in your personal name at the time of your death will be subject to probate and a larger amount of estate taxes.

If you are having difficulty determining whether your situation calls for a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust, seek the advice of an experienced Estate Planning Lawyer. For more information on reviewing your goals for your Comprehensive Estate Planning, contact Daniel A. Baron of Baron Law today at 216-573-3723.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future