Upcoming seminars cancelled until further notice. Watch our online seminar.

For the safety of our clients and staff, and as required by law, all Ettinger Law Firm offices are closed until we are permitted to reopen.

Please be assured that all staff is currently working remotely and are available to you by email or phone.

All staff will be checking their phone and email messages daily.*

Please call our Director of Client Relations, Pattie Brown, at 1-800-500-2525 ext. 117 or email Pattie at pbrown@trustlaw.com if you need any further assistance.

* You can also use this link to schedule a phone consultation with one of our attorneys.

The COVID-19 pandemic has understandably left many people facing challenges. Remember that even the most difficult times often present opportunities, which currently includes an ideal situation to transfer assets to a loved one. The combination of decreased market values, lowered interest rates, and a high tax rate exemption has caused people to utilize several advantageous estate planning strategies.

# 1 – Making the Most of Gifting

Based on the value of assets, transferring property through gifting often requires individuals to consider estate taxes, gift taxes, and generation-skipping taxes. By transferring assets to loved ones while the asset’s value is temporarily at its lowest, you have the greatest chance possible of removing the assets from your taxable estate while making the most out of available exemptions. 

We continue to wish you and your family safety and good health and hope that worldwide events unleashed by the pandemic we are experiencing does not keep you separated from your loved ones for too long. Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face. Limit your contact with other people and maintain cleanliness and good hygiene to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

We continue to discuss items you should review in your current estate plan to take into consideration the volatility of the financial markets and to compensate for financial losses your retirement plans may have experienced because of the losses. Ask your estate planning attorneys to help you  consider the following changes to your estate plan.

 

  •   Refinance intra-family loans to take advantage of lower interest rates.

The Trump Administration announced on March 9 broad new rules that will allow you to share your medical records with third-party apps of your choice in order to retrieve medical data like blood test results and doctor’s progress notes directly from your health care providers.  According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the new system intends to make it easy for you to manager your health care on smartphones, similar to how you manage your finances through apps on their smartphones.

 
Anyone who has tried to access their medical records can tell you that giving people access to their medical records via mobile apps is a major milestone for patient rights. Some physicians still require patients to pick up health records on computer disks or issue paper copies only, charging patients exorbitant fees to process a request for copies of your medical records.

 
Even if your health care provides you access to your medical records, they can still limitation what type of information you can access from your medical records. For example, if you get blood drawn from a laboratory, you cannot have access to the results of your test until your doctor views your results and authorizes the laboratory to release your blood test results to you.  In the last several years there has been a proliferation of online portals to access information about upcoming appointments, medical records, and vital signs. These portals do not always provide access to progress notes or results from imaging tests, like MRIs and x-rays.

On March 13, CMS issued updated guidance for visitors to nursing homes related to COVID-19. If your loved one is residing in a nursing home, the facility should be actively screening and restricting or limiting visitors according to CMS guidelines. CMS is the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

 
In addition to guidance on screening and restricting or limiting visitors, CMS recommends that nursing homes do the following:

  • Review and revise how they interact with volunteers, vendors, agency staff, EMS personnel and equipment, transportation workers, and other practitioners

Did you know that the cost of in-home care services and nursing home care are not covered items under the Medicare program? According to AARP, the average cost of nursing home stays is more than $100,00 per year in many parts of the United States. A comprehensive retirement plan should include long-term care insurance because costs like these can drain your retirement savings quickly.

 
What is long-term care insurance?

Long-term care insurance (LTC) helps individuals and couples protect against medical expenses not covered under the Medicare program. Once you or your spouse can no longer perform daily living activities such as bathing, dressing, and eating on your own, LTC insurance typically quicks in to cover in-home care services. There is a waiting period (called “elimination period”) of sorts that applies to most plans before coverage begins in earnest. Check your insurance policy documents for more information.

For over 80 years, Social Security has made guaranteed monthly payouts to eligible retired workers. Today, over 64 million people receive a monthly benefit from the Social Security program. The average retired worker benefit is $1,505.50 a month, as of January 2020. Generally Social Security income for the ordinary retiree is not taxed. There are states however, that do tax Social Security income.

 
The federal government can tax your Social Security benefits

The taxation of Social Security benefits began in earnest as part of the Social Security Amendments of 1983. Beginning in 1984, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is allowed to apply federal ordinary income tax rates on up to one-half of an individual’s or couple’s Social Security benefit, depending on their income. If an individual’s or couple’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) plus one-half of benefits exceeds $25,000 or $32,000, respectively, they would be subject to this tax.

Every estate plan should include a living trust. A living trust is different from a trust and should be part of your estate plan along with a last will and testament and power of attorney (financial and medical) documents.

 
Why a living trust is an important estate plan document

A living trust is a written legal document that partially substitutes for a will. With a living trust, your assets (your home, bank accounts and stocks, for example) are put into the trust, administered for your benefit during your lifetime, and then transferred to your beneficiaries when you die. Living trusts, have great value as part of estate planning, but not necessarily to avoid probate. A living trust, if properly prepared and administered, can be a very effective tool to manage assets in the event of illness, disability or the effects of aging. In light of the aging population, the use of living trusts to minimize the risk of elder financial abuse and address similar issues, should be an important consideration in an estate plan.

A power of attorney, including a heath care power of attorney, are crucial estate planning documents. This is especially important if you have Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or are suffering from another chronic and debilitating illness. Individuals who are widowed or alone should carefully consider who they can trust to manage their financial and medical affairs when they lose the ability to make such decisions themselves.

 

  •     Power of Attorney: A power of attorney is a legal document you can use to appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf. The person you designate is called an “attorney-in-fact.” The appointment can be effective immediately or can become effective only if you are unable to make decisions on your own.

o   New York State has a short-form and a long-form Power of Attorney form.

A trust is an important estate plan document. Other estate planning documents include a last will and testament and intestate succession.

 
Every state has laws that determine who your heirs are and what proportion of the estate the heir is entitled to receive. Heir refers to blood relatives and are usually grouped according to closeness of relationship:  Children and spouse; siblings and parents; aunts, uncles, and cousins. Where there is no will or trust, the estate is deemed “intestate” and must be settled according to state probate law. Individuals who inherit property under a will or trust are referred to as beneficiaries. Persons can be named as beneficiaries on bank accounts, life insurance policies, financial portfolios, retirement accounts, and certain types of titled property such as real estate – they need not be heirs. Remember heirs can be beneficiaries, but beneficiaries are not always heirs.

 
To complete an estate plan, you should consider adding trust documents.

Creating a thoughtful estate plan is one of the greatest gifts anyone can leave their loved ones. It is important to update your will when major changes occur. These might include marriage, divorce, opening or closing a business, buying or selling real estate, or birth or death of an heir.

 
Estate planning is a process that helps ensure that your desires for distribution of your property and assets at death are carried out. During life, to complete an estate plan, you should consider the following: 

 

  •     Will: A will is the primary document that should be prepared while living, to be effective at death. A will is a written document expressing how you would like your estate to be distributed after death. Usually a will must be executed in the presence of two disinterested witness and be notarized. You must also have testamentary capacity (over the age of 18, of sound mind, and competent).
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