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Estate Planning Attorney Baron Law

D.I.Y. Estate Planning: Saving a Dollar Now, Lose a Thousand Later

D.I.Y. Estate Planning:  Legal Zoom, Rocket Lawyer, and Youtube has granted an unprecedented amount of legal information to the public. Online forums, blogs, and television allow people to converse at any time and anywhere about pretty much anything. Nowadays ordinary people can undertake their own legal research, legal drafting, and, if necessary, personal representation.  Just because you can do something, however, doesn’t mean you should. Google searches and online videos are not a substitute for the advice and guidance of an experienced Ohio attorney and many people put themselves in a bad position after they convince themselves that an attorney is simply not necessary.

At the end of the day, do-it-yourself legal services is all about saving money and time. People don’t want to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on legal services and spend the time conversing and meeting with an attorney. Online legal materials, at least the cheap or free ones, are great at providing a false sense of security, that everything is straight-forward, do X and you’ll get Y.

Law firms hear the same problems and fix the same issues from self-representation every day. People who, after a quick google search, start drafting their own wills, LLCs, and contracts. People who put their faith in a disinterested corporation and a handful of document templates. Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer are not law firms and they do not represent you or your interests, they explicitly say so on their websites. They cannot review answers for legal sufficiency or check your information or drafting. An experienced Cleveland estate planning attorney, however, properly retained and with your best interests in mind will accomplish everything you expect, and often more.

Hired attorneys are under legal and professional obligations to do the best job possible. They don’t want to get sued for malpractice, they want you to pay your legal bill, and they want you to refer your friends and family. A particular client is concerned with a tree, while the attorney pays attention to the forest. A proper attorney will draft documents correctly with established legal conventions in mind, legalese isn’t something done for attorneys own benefit, it has a definitive and beneficial purpose. A lot of trouble is caused by D.I.Y. legal drafters and estate planners due to typos or the inclusion of legalese for legalese sake. Further, a knowledge of federal, state, and local law along with local procedure and jurisdictional customs is necessary to obtain a proper outcome with minimal cost and stress. At the end of the day, the legal system is made up of people, knowing who to talk to and when is a large reason why attorneys are retained.

We live in a brave new world, never before has so much legal information been so readily accessible to so many. In the same vein, never before has our lives been so complex and estate planning matches this. Attorneys do more than drafting and research, they advise you on the best ways to protect your family and assets in light of an ever-changing legal landscape and your own personal life and dreams. Often do-it-yourself legal services are simply not worth the risk and lull you into a false sense of security. Ultimately, you need your estate planning documents to do what you expect them to. As such, call of local Ohio estate planning attorney and make sure yours are done right.

What is the Difference Between a Trust and a Will in Estate Planning?

What is a Will?

A will is a basic document outlining your wishes for your estate. It identifies an executor of your estate and provides the opportunity to divide your assets among your beneficiaries. This tool allows you to control the future care for any minor children and division of your assets. Without a will, the laws of your state will determine how your assets are divided. Therefore, a will is the minimum estate plan you need to care for your family and your assets. However, the purpose of a will is to guide the probate court to act in accordance with your desired plan.

What are the limitations with a will?

Probate

A will does not avoid probate court, and the average time to administer a will through probate is 18 months, while the minimum is six months. The length of this process can place a burden on the family left behind, and it allows creditors to make claims on any debts you owe.

Cost

Probate requires a number of fees–on average 5-7% of the value of the estate.

Public Transaction

Anything that goes through probate is public information. This means that both your assets and the way you choose to divide them become public, able to be found online in detail.

What is a Trust?

A trust is another form of estate planning that allows you to divide your assets as you desire. While this is similar to a will, a trust allows greater control and bypasses the limitations of a will as seen above.

A trust avoids probate, thus freeing your assets and your family from the court system. As such, probate fees are also avoided, and your personal information (assets and beneficiaries) is kept private.

What are other benefits of a trust?

Taxes

Saving on taxes is one benefit of a trust. However, given current tax laws, this is not an advantage unless your estate’s value is over 10 million dollars. Note, though, that this exemption is subject to change, and tax benefits may become more valuable.

Asset Protection

This is the biggest reason people use trusts over wills. Trusts allow for greater protection of the estate in case of something unexpected such as a beneficiary who develops a credit issue, or the possibility of a divorce.


If you are realizing that estate planning is more important and less simple than you thought, Baron Law will walk you through every step to ensure that your family and your assets are protected. To learn more about the difference between a will and a trust, or to begin planning for your future, contact the estate planning attorneys at Baron Law today.

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.

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Special Needs Trust #2 photo

The Three Flavors of Special Needs Trusts: #2 Pooled Trusts

Baron Law LLC, Cleveland, Ohio, offers information for you to reflect upon while you are setting out looking for an estate planning attorney to help protect as much of your assets as you can. For more comprehensive information contact Baron Law Cleveland to draft your comprehensive estate plan to endeavor to keep more of your assets for your heirs and not hand them over to the government by way of taxes.

In order for those with special needs to qualify for government assistance programs such as Social Security Income and Medicaid, they must meet health, income, and asset thresholds. In other words, at least on paper, potential recipients must be quite poor to receive benefits. As such, just like to initially receive benefits, if special needs person is already receiving these benefits they must maintain the established thresholds of assets and income, or lack thereof. So, an inheritance, receiving an accident or medical malpractice settlement, or merely amassing too much money in an account can kick these people off of much needed benefits due to violating the standards set down by managing government entities and departments. In the hopes of preventing this outcome proactively, many people turn to special needs trusts.

Special Needs Trusts: Revisited

A special needs trust allows a disabled person to, theoretically, shelter an unlimited amount of assets for their needs without being disqualified from government benefits.  As hinted to above, this is because the assets held in a special needs trust properly drafted by experienced Cleveland attorneys are not counted as individual resources for purposes of qualifying for benefits.  On paper, at least in the eyes of the government and taxman, the beneficiaries of special needs trusts meet their asset and income thresholds. As a consequence, those special needs persons lucky enough to have a special needs trusts have access to more money, which can be spent on comforts, necessities, housing, and much needed medical care. Though we in this country are lucky to have government assistance programs available to us, anyone with a loved one solely dependent on them will tell you it’s certainly not enough. A properly drafted special needs trust will provide extra care and life satisfaction for disabled loved ones regardless of whether supporting family members are around for many years or pass away suddenly.

Pooled Special Needs Trusts

As mentioned in previous blogs, there are many “flavors” of special needs trusts. One such type is a “pooled” special needs trust. The focal point with this trust is maximizing potential gains from money funded into the trust, minimizing administrative costs, and delegating trust management to experienced personnel. In a nutshell, pooled trusts are a method to provide benefits of a special needs trusts without having to do the administrative legwork yourself.

As a rule, pooled trusts are required to be run by non-profit companies or organizations. The company or organization running the pooled trust drafts a master trust agreement that dictates the terms of the trust and the relationship between the trust and all participants.

In almost all cases, the pooled trust is run by a professional administrator. After establishment of the trust, money is transferred into the pooled trust to fund a particular individual’s stake in the trust. This single source of funding is then pooled with other people’s money to make one big pot, hence the name pooled trust. This pot is then controlled and invested, usually by an investment manager, similar to the way a hedge fund or other investment group operates.

The major takeaway is the “pooled” aspect of this particular trust. In theory, because there are many sources of funding brought together and utilized tactically, a pooled trust can make more stable investments and provide additional management services that other types of special needs trust cannot. Again, this increased investment power and potential returns coupled with lowered administrative costs, because it is borne by a large group instead of the individual and also an individual trustee does not need to be vetted and appointed, is also with the added benefit of the special needs beneficiary still being able to receive government benefits.

Unique Issues with Pooled Special Needs Trusts

The most obvious potential issue with pooled trusts is control, or lack thereof for individual participants. With a pooled trust, the trust assets are managed by people selected by the non-profit organization and not by anyone associated with an individual participant. This, in turn, means unassociated individuals and trust terms dictate how investments proceed and when disbursements occur, pretty much in a take it or leave it style. Once money is surrendered and placed into the pooled trust, individual participants how no say over how it is spent or when it will be distributed.  Additionally, it is a little known and little advertised fact that after the special needs beneficiary passes, some or all of their particular trust account will be kept to help with continued funding for the pooled trust. As always read the fine print and be completely sure you know what you’re signing up for.

With pooled trusts you make undertake a pro’s vs. con’s analysis, lack of control versus potential gains that might be indispensable in providing of critical healthcare costs for those with special needs. Consult an experienced Cleveland estate planning attorney who is familiar with drafting and administrating special needs trusts in order to find out potential options and they best course to take. Further, before signing on the dotted line to participate in any pooled trust, have an experienced Ohio estate planning attorney review the master trust agreement. Often these documents are very massive and have many hidden terms that can have profound impacts on your and your loved ones with special needs.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

Special Needs Trusts

The Three Flavors of Special Needs Trusts: #1 Third-Party Trusts

Estate Planning law firm Baron Law Cleveland offers the following part 1 of a three part series of explaining the difference trusts available for those who have loved ones with Special Needs.  Dan Baron of Baron Law can advise what is best trust for your situation as the trusts are as individual as your loved one.

According to recent statistics for the National Organization on Disability, nearly 1/5 of all Americans, almost 54 million, have a physical, sensory, or intellectual disability. Every one of those 54 million have parents, siblings, family members, and loved ones who want to ensure they are comfortable and provided for. As with many things with special needs persons, the solution for providing for them isn’t straightforward or simple. This is where special needs trusts often play a pivotal role in providing support and estate planning peace of mind.

Special Needs Trusts: A Primer

Special Needs Trusts, as their name suggests, are trusts. As trusts, they hold the common characteristics and features shared by all 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. 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.

The distinguishing aspect and purpose of special needs trusts, sometimes referred as supplemental needs trusts, is that resources placed within these trusts can be managed for the benefit of a person with special needs but still allow them to qualify for public benefits like supplemental security income and Medicaid. This allows grantors, those who create the trust, usually in this instance parents of someone with special needs, to provide much need stable and monetary support while still allowing often indispensable social assistance programs for their children, even long after the parents pass. Third-party trusts seek to supplement income from assistance programs not to replace it.

Third-Party Special Needs Trusts

In general, there are three types of special needs trusts: Third-party trusts, self-settled trusts, and pooled trusts. Of focus here is third-party special needs trusts. The name denotes the defining characteristic of this trust, that a third-party set up a trust and funded the trust. This is also its most critical aspect because the funds and/or assets in the trust never belonged to the beneficiary with special needs, the government is not entailed to reimbursement for Medicaid payments made to the beneficiary nor are these assets taken into account when calculatng either initial or continued eligibility for government assistance programs for the special needs person.

These trusts are usually set up as a part of a comprehensive estate plan that initially provides a place to house gifts given by family members during their life to someone with special needs and later to also house inheritance from these same family members when they pass. Third-party special needs trusts are often denoted as beneficiaries on life insurance polices or certain retirements accounts. Further, these trusts can also own real estate or investments in the name of the trust but for the ultimate benefit of the person with special needs.

Advantages of Third-Party Special Needs Trusts

A big advantage of third-party special needs trusts is that, while the grantor is living, funds in the trust usually generate income tax for the grantor, not for the special needs beneficiary. This shift in taxation is dependent on proper drafting which is why experienced counsel is always recommended with special needs trusts. This tax shift avoids the hassle and stress of having to file income tax returns for an otherwise non-taxable special needs beneficiary and also having to explain the income to the Social Security Administration or other interested government entity.

Additionally, because it a trust, ultimately what happens after the special needs beneficiary is controlled by the grantor, you. Thus, the grantor always retains control and upon the special needs beneficiary’s death, the assets in the trust pass according to the grantor’s express wishes, even longer after death, and usually to the grantor’s surviving family member or other charitable institutions. This means the special needs person is always provided for, and far-above those people solely dependent on government assistance, and the money, at the end, will continue to do good for either your family or the world at large.

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Hot Powers

“Hot Powers”: What Are They And Should You Give Them?

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? These are the sorts of questions and issues typically handled by your power of attorney. As they suggest, these are critically important decisions that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Fundamentally, however, these issues can only be handled by your power of attorney if they possess authority, given by you and in writing, to do so. This is why ever since 2012, when Ohio law changed, “hot powers” are a significant topic for you to discuss with your estate planning attorney.

I. Durable Power of Attorney

To understand what hot powers are, you must understand what a power of attorney is. A financial power of attorney, also known as a durable power of attorney, is a legal document that a person can use to appoint someone to act on his or her behalf, i.e. an agency appointment. 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. 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.

As stated, powers of attorneys come in many forms. 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 surviving 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. Alas, 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.

II. “Hot Powers”

So, where do “hot powers” fit in all this. Effective March 22, 2012, Ohio adopted the Uniform Power of Attorney Act, or UPOAA, which was focused on preventing financial elder abuse. Now, powers of attorney must include a statutory language designed to help prevent agents from abusing their power. Put simply, the law now demands power of use more specific drafting and specific denotation “hot powers.”

“Hot powers” grant extraordinary powers to your agent and often these powers can have the effect of altering your estate plan. As such, these powers must be expressly granted per statutory guidelines before they are used by your agent. The most popular of them is the power to gift money or property. “Hot powers” are often used to continue a plan of gifting, sheltering money or property from costs of late life healthcare. Specified gifting “hot powers” can gift anywhere from a limited dollar amount or unlimited, dependent on the scope of the “hot powers” granted and the goals of your estate plan. Further, this power can also be limited to a class of people, such as spouse or children.

Since this new law, third parties such as a financial institution are not required to honor a general power of attorneys. Now, the law asks that a power of attorney include specifically which types of assets and accounts the agent is allowed to control. The spirit of this change is to 1) ensure individuals specifically know and agree to the powers they are giving, and 2) there will no longer be agents running around with “golden tickets” that allow them to do whatever they want to under the sun.

III. Should you give “hot powers”

Like every question in estate planning, whether you should give “hot powers” is circumstantial. The main consideration is who will be given the powers and under what terms. As stated above, “hot powers” are extraordinary powers meaning in the wrong hands they are really screw up your life and a well-crafted estate plan.

Regardless of whether you give these powers or not, it is probably wise to have your Cleveland estate planning attorney look at your powers of attorney if it has been more than five years. The law and your personal circumstances change quite often. Note, a power of attorney created before the 2012 law change will still be valid, however, it may be deficient in expected ways, ways that could hurt you down the line. In sum, the 2012 change means agents are prohibited from performing certain acts unless the power of attorney specifically authorizes them. Because financial power of attorney documents give significant powers to another person, they should be granted only after careful consideration and consultation with experienced legal counsel.

 

Estate Planning Lawyer

Common Questions With Inherited IRA’s

Most of us don’t have millions of dollars in liquid assets to fund our retirements. Ordinary people use common investment tools such as traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, simplified employee pension plans (“SEPs”), and savings incentive match plans for employees (“SIMPLE IRAs”) to pay for healthcare and living expenses in old age. The main goal for any retirement plan is for an individual or couple to outlive their savings, and often, if proper planning is implemented, this is the case. So, what happens to these retirement accounts after their owners pass away? What do sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, or even close friends do with these accounts if they are named beneficiaries? This is often where inherited IRAs and their confusing rules regarding mandatory distributions come into play. Though creating an IRA is simple, when it comes to inheritance and asset distribution, most people don’t know where to start. That is why an advance discussion with a Cleveland estate planning attorney or tax advisor can give you the information needed to avoid unintended consequences with inheriting an IRA.    

  • What is an Inherited IRA? 

A cavalier attitude for IRA owners and their beneficiaries can lead to paying higher taxes, triggering penalties, or giving up future opportunities for tax-advantaged, or tax-fee, growth. This first step to avoiding these outcomes is to know what an inherited IRA is. 

In a nutshell, an inherited IRA is a retirement account that is opened when a person inherits an IRA or employer-sponsored retirement plan after the account holder dies. The assets held in the deceased individual’s IRA is transferred into a new inherited IRA in the beneficiary’s name. Usually, the account is transferred, inherited, via a beneficiary designation. This is why inherited IRAs are also referred to “beneficiary IRAs.” The rules that govern the transfer of the account assets, however, depends heavily on whether the beneficiary is a spouse or non-spouse. 

The big concern with inherited IRAs is the schedule for required mandatory distributions, namely when do they have to begin. When required mandatory distributions must begin and how they are measured is nuanced and depends on a variety of factors such as beneficiary age, age of the deceased own, type of IRA, income needs, and creditor protection concerns. Most people are unfamiliar of all the rules and considerations associated with inheriting IRAs, as such, always talk to an experienced Ohio estate planning attorney if you have any doubt with the proper course of action in your circumstances.  

  • Options for Spouses 

The name of the game for spouses is rollover. Spouses can transfer the deceased spouse’s IRA into their name and defer distributions until required mandatory distributions are triggered. (When, however, these distributions must start is a fact sepcfiic question to bring up with your attorney). This rollover allows tax-advantaged growth of the IRA funds to continue with no interruption. It is critical, however, that the spouse take no direct control of inherited IRA funds or else a taxable event will be triggered. The good news is surviving spouses have 60 days from receiving inherited distributions to roll them into their own IRAs without a problem as long as no issues regarding required minimum distribution are present. Note, though rollover is often the most popular option, you always have the option to cash out the IRA, just be aware of what benefits you’re forfeiting and also any potential penalties and/or personal tax liabilities.   

  • Options for Non-Spouses 

Unfortunately, non-spouses do not have the option to rollover and the rules for them are quite a bit more complex. Option one for non-spouses is to disclaim all or part of the deceased owner’s IRA assets. This decision must be made within nine months of the original IRA owner’s death and before possession of the assets occurs. This is usually done by named beneficiaries who wish to avoid being kicked up to a higher tax bracket which, in turn, would practically eat everything inherited anyways via state and federal taxation. 

Option two is to cash out the IRA either immediately or within five years. Taxes will be paid on the amount of distribution, but no 10% IRA early withdraw penalty will accrue. With this option the IRA assets must be exhausted by December 31st of the fifth year following the original IRA owner’s death. This five-year period allows some planning to occur to mitigate any potential tax hit, but, if an IRA is large enough, state and federal taxes will eat a large part regardless.  

Option three is to transfer assets from the deceased owner’s IRA into an inherited IRA and take required minimum distributions in order stretch out the potential tax hit and fully exploit the tax-advantage status of an inherited IRA. As a general rule, the IRS requires non-spouse inherited IRA owners to start taking required minimum distributions starting December 31 after the year of death of the original account owner, and each year thereafter. Also, distributions from inherited IRAs taken before age 59½ are not subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty in most cases. The rules and guidelines regarding these required mandatory distributions can be confusing and are highly dependent on the particular facts surrounding the IRA inheritance.  

The calculated amount of required mandatory distributions for non-spouses is determined via IRS life expectancy tables, IRS required mandatory distribution guidelines, and IRS criteria based on your age, life expectancy, number of named beneficiaries, type of original IRA, and age of deceased IRA owner. When distributions must start, if at all, how much each distribution must be, and whose life expectancy will govern the distribution schedule are each questions that all competent estate planning attorneys will discuss with you and plan for. Planning IRA inheritance for non-spouses is no easy task but it represents an often critical retirement issue that goes unaddressed and causes massive tax problems for beneficiaries.  

Most people who use retirement accounts are at least semi-knowledgeable when it comes to creating and managing IRAs, but very few are concerned about what happens after they pass on. This is where your legal and tax advisers come in. Proper planning and conversation with your estate planning attorney can avoid higher taxes for beneficiaries, triggering penalties, and giving up future tax-advantaged, or tax-fee, growth. Properly planning for retirement not only is a concern for you, but also for the friends and family you leave behind.  

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

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.

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