Articles Posted in Elder Law

The transition between US presidents is often a trade-off. While some advantages come from the change in leaders, there are also setbacks. While president-elect Joe Biden has announced a more-extensive plan for containing the COVID-19 pandemic as well as plans for minorities in the country, Biden also has expressed the intent to raise capital gains and estate taxes as well as change how capital assets are taxed at the time of death. 

As a result of this change in US politics, some individuals have begun to reconsider their estate planning strategy. In much the same way that no two estate plans are the same, the course of action you decide to utilize in response will also be unique and depends on various factors including your income, what you need to live on, and your gifting objectives. This article briefly discusses the potential impact that Biden’s presidency will have on your estate plan.

# 1 – Estate and Gift Taxes

It’s an unfortunate reality that many people who apply for Medicaid end up discovering that they have too many assets to qualify for the program. Instead of being available to everyone, Medicaid is classified as a “needs-based” program and a successful applicant must be determined to have insufficient assets before the program will “kick in” and provide assistance. 

The process of reducing a person’s assets to qualify for Medicaid is also known as “spend-down”. Like many estate planning processes, many misconceptions exist about the “spend-down” process. For example, rather than only medical care, there are various things that a person can spend on without disrupting qualification for Medicaid. 

Allowable Spend-Down Categories

Family members as caregivers overwhelmingly provide for elderly and disabled loved ones at home. Although a labor of love, taking care of ailing loved ones also has a market value, meaning that caretakers may be paid as a way to protect assets.
Through the use of a Caregiver Agreement, also known as a Personal Services Contract, the disabled or elderly person may transfer money to family members as compensation rather than as a gift. Gifts to family members made in the last five years before applying for Medicaid to pay for nursing home costs disqualify the applicant from receiving Medicaid for a certain period of time, known as a “penalty period.”
For example, mom depends on daughter Janice for her care. If mom gifts $100,000 to Janice, then goes into a nursing home in the next five years and applies for Medicaid, the gift to Janice will result in about a ten month penalty period. Janice will have to give the $100,000 back to mom to pay nursing home costs during the penalty period, or mom will have to use other resources to pay.

The conventional wisdom is to wait and not claim Social Security benefits until you are over 66 (the full retirement age for individuals born between 1943 and 1954). Full retirement age is calculated by year of birth. To see what your full retirement age is click here, or review the website maintained by the Social Security Administration (www.ssa.gov). The reason choosing when to begin claiming Social Security benefits is a big decision that will impact the size of your monthly benefit amount or checks for the rest of your life. For example, if you have a full retirement age of 67 and wait until age 70 to begin claiming Social Security benefits, you’ll receive your full benefit amount plus an extra 24% each month for the rest of your life.

 
Delaying benefits however isn’t right for everyone, and it may make sense for you to claim your benefits as early as possible, or age 62, (the earliest retirement age for individuals born between 1943 and 1954). Again, to determine when you can claim your benefits, click here. Three reasons why claiming your retirement benefits through the Social Security program may be right for you are as follows:

 

  • Your retirement years are limited.

After decades together, there are still couples who do not share information about their finances with each other. Some couples separate their money – mine, yours, and ours. They too often get caught in the same position, having very little knowledge about their spouse’s money.

 
The problem is compounded in household’s where one spouse worked outside the home. The stay at home spouse may not have a separate stockpile of money and investments and is wholly financially dependent on the other spouse.  The working spouse in this scenario, usually manages the family’s bank accounts and makes the financial decisions. The non-working spouse trusts the information the working spouse provides and goes along with the plan.

 
Without a financial power of attorney, one spouse has no way of knowing what the other spouse has by way of cash, investments, life insurance policies, stocks and bonds, pensions, and retirement accounts. Unless, the accounts are held jointly, even if you are legally married, you will not receive financial information from any financial institution about your spouse’s accounts.

If you’re eligible for divorce benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), you can collect up to 50% of the amount your former spouse is eligible to receive by claiming your benefits at his or her full retirement age (FRA).

 
Your FRA is either 66, 66 plus a few months, or 67, depending on the year you were born. The earliest you can claim Social Security benefits is 62. If you claim benefits before your FRA, your Social Security benefits will be permanently reduced by as much as 30%. You can only receive your full Social Security benefit amount if you claim benefits at your FRA.

 
You cannot double dip

Estate planning around your child’s partner is concerning for many parents. Shielding your assets from your child’s spouse in the event of divorce is possible and can be a part of your estate plan. The reasons for wanting to shield your assets from your child’s spouse are varied and packed with emotions and feelings. Some parents wish to pass their property down within their own bloodline. Other parents themselves are also divorced and worry about how their child’s inheritance may wind-up down the road if there is a divorce or a new family in the picture. And some parents, even after years of their child being married, still do not like their spouse.

 
It is upsetting to a child when his or her parents disapprove of their spouse. Some families are discreet about their true feeling, while others make it well-known. No matter where you fall in the spectrum of possibilities, there are ways to prepare your estate plan that may take away some of your worries that your child’s inheritance will be squandered away when you die because of his or her relationships while avoiding the emotional time-bomb of revealing your true feelings about your child’s spouse to your child.

 
The most effective way to shield your assets from your child’s spouse is to have your child and his or her spouse enter a prenuptial agreement before they get married. While this may be the best solution, it is also the most emotionally charged and wrought with difficulties. If you push to hard, legally, it may be a ground to invalidate the prenuptial agreement, because such agreements need to be voluntary to be enforceable.  Trusts are an emotion-free method to communicate and exercise your feelings about your child’s choices without articulately them to all who would here.

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.

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.

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