Planning for Generations of Proud Americans

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Happy 4th of July

On the 4th of July we gather as family and community celebrating the blessings of a free nation where we are able to enjoy the fruits of our labor and pass those blessings onto future generations. We are proud to help you plan and pass along your American dream to the next generation of proud Americans.

 

Should I Convert To A ROTH IRA?

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What is the difference between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA?

Roth IRA is an individual retirement account that offers tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals in retirement. Roth IRA rules dictate that as long as you’ve owned your account for 5 years and you’re age 59½ or older, you can withdraw your money when you want to and you won’t owe any federal taxes.

A Traditional IRA is a type of individual retirement account that lets your earnings grow tax-deferred. You pay taxes on your investment gains only when you make withdrawals in retirement.

In addition, when planning for an considering long term care planning and possibly needing to qualify for Medicaid, most states do not deem Qualified Accounts such as 401(K)’s and IRA’s and Roth IRA’s as countable resources.

Therefore, the decision to make is: Do I take the income tax hit now and convert to a Roth IRA, or do I wait take it later when I start drawing down on the traditional IRA or 401(K)?

Should I Convert to a Roth IRA?

Roth IRA conversions have been available for many years. Two recent developments suggest that you reconsider Roth IRA conversions for yourself in 2020:

  • The government’s response to COVID-19 significantly raises the Federal deficit, making it more likely that tax rates will be going up in the future.
  • You may be in a lower tax bracket in 2020, which would reduce the tax cost of the conversion.

Both of these factors make Roth IRA conversions more attractive than they were in 2019. The decision as to whether these factors tip the scale in favor of a Roth IRA conversion will require careful consideration. You will need to consider your overall financial plan and make certain assumptions.

Who should do a Roth IRA conversion?

The ideal candidate for a Roth IRA conversion would check off most or all of these boxes:

  • You can pay the tax on the conversion out of a taxable investment portfolio.
  • You expect that you will be in the highest income tax bracket in the future when IRA distributions would be required.
  • You expect that you will not need to withdraw funds from the Roth IRA during your lifetime.
  • You expect that your estate will be subject to estate tax at your death and your spouse.

Who should not do a Roth IRA Conversion?

Some people who should not do a Roth IRA conversion currently are as follows:

  • People who expect to be in a lower tax bracket at retirement.
  • People who can use IRA distributions to take advantage of the lower brackets.
  • People who want to preserve the option of using income from their IRA to offset future medical costs for long-term care or other significant medical expenses, bearing in mind the the principal balances are protected and currently not deemed a countable resource in many states.
  • People who plan to use their IRA for charitable contributions.

Want to discuss how conversion will impact you? Contact us for a no obligation consultation.

SOURCE: LISI Employee Benefits & Retirement Planning Newsletter #737 (June 9, 2020)

COVID-19 Stimulus Checks and Medicaid

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Will my COVID-19 Stimulus Check impact Medicaid Eligibility?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act (passed on March 27, 2020) is a $2 trillion economic relief package intended to help offset the huge financial crisis caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As part of the CARES Act, the majority of Americans, including those who are elderly and on fixed income, will receive a one-time stimulus check from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Many Medicaid beneficiaries who live at home, assisted living, adult foster care, or nursing homes are concerned the money will put them over the Medicaid income or asset limit, and therefore, disqualify them from Medicaid benefits. In addition, Medicaid applicants express the same concern that the additional money will cause them to have income or assets over Medicaid’s limits, and as a result, prevent them from becoming eligible for Medicaid.

Stimulus checks will not be counted as income and therefore will not impact Medicaid beneficiaries or applicants. However, should the stimulus money not be spent within 12 months, it may be counted as an asset, and therefore could impact eligibility in the year ahead. Therefore, make sure you spend the funds as soon as possible on eligible purchases in accordance with Medicaid regulations (DO NOT GIFT IT).

Nursing Home Residents

he receipt of a stimulus check by Medicaid beneficiaries who reside in nursing homes will not impact these individuals’ Medicaid benefits. Stated differently, the receipt of the check will not disqualify them from Medicaid nursing home care. This is because Medicaid will not count the money as income, which means it cannot push one over Medicaid’s income limit, and hence, result in the loss of Medicaid benefits.

United States Treasury stimulus payment for Coronavirus CoViD-19 outbreak disease.

While Medicaid-funded nursing home residents are required to surrender all of their income except for a personal needs allowance and a monthly maintenance needs allowance for a non-applicant spouse (if applicable) to Medicaid, the money from the stimulus check will not have to be surrendered to Medicaid. This is because, as mentioned above, the stimulus check is not considered as income by Medicaid. Rather, it can be thought of as a tax refund.

Furthermore, the stimulus check will not count as assets, given the money is spent within 12-months of receiving it. So, within this time frame, a nursing home Medicaid recipient can have possession of the money and it will not impact one’s Medicaid eligibility. However, it is imperative that the money, in its entirety, be spent within one year. If not, the money will count towards Medicaid’s asset limit and can potentially push one over the limit, resulting in Medicaid disqualification.

The money can be spent by nursing home residents in a number of ways. For example, one might buy new clothing, purchase a television for his / her room, stock up on extra snacks, or purchase an irrevocable funeral trust. What one does not want to do is to buy assets that are counted towards Medicaid’s asset limit. For instance, collectors coins would most likely be considered an investment and the value of them would be counted towards the asset limit, potentially causing one to be over the limit and lose Medicaid benefits.

The stimulus check will either be directed deposited in the nursing home resident’s bank account or be mailed to the address on one’s 2018 or 2019 tax return. To further clarify, if a refund was issued via direct deposit for one’s tax return, the stimulus check will be directed deposited in the same bank account. If not, the check will go in the mail. Persons who do not have to file tax returns, such as Social Security recipients, will receive stimulus checks in the same manner in which they receive their Social Security benefits. Therefore, if one receives his / her Social Security payment by direct deposit, the stimulus check will automatically be received via direct deposit also.

Spouses of Nursing Home Residents

Spouses of nursing home residents on Medicaid (called Community Spouses), who are not on Medicaid themselves will receive a stimulus check. The receipt of this check will not impact their spouses’ Medicaid eligibility in any manner. First, and foremost, the money from the stimulus check is not considered income by Medicaid, and even if it were, the income of a non-applicant spouse is not considered in the continuing Medicaid eligibility of his / her nursing home spouse.

For Medicaid beneficiaries, the entire check needs to be spent within 12-months of receiving it or the remaining funds will count as assets towards Medicaid’s eligibility. However, the same rule does not hold true for community spouses. To be clear, there is no time limit in which a spouse of a nursing resident must spend his / her stimulus check. Furthermore, non-applicant spouses can spend the stimulus check in any manner they choose, such as paying rent or mortgage, utility bills, food, or even on a splurge, such as a pricey piece of jewelry.

No matter how long it takes for the community spouse to spend the funds, and regardless of how they are spent, it will not impact the institutionalized spouse’s Medicaid eligibility. In other words, a community spouse can be rest assured that it will not cause the nursing home resident to lose his / her nursing home Medicaid benefits. This is because the assets of the non-applicant spouse are not considered for the continuing Medicaid eligibility of his / her Medicaid beneficiary spouse. (The community spouse’s assets are only considered when determining initial eligibility).

The community spouse will receive the stimulus check either via direct deposit or in the mail. Exactly the manner in which it will be received will be based on one’s 2018 or 2019 tax return and how a refund was issued. For instance, if one received a refund via the mail, the address on file will be used and the stimulus check will be mailed to that address. For those who are not required to file tax returns, such as recipients of Social Security, the check will be received in the same way in which their monthly Social Security benefit is received. This means that if it is deposited directly in one’s bank account, the stimulus check will also be directly deposited.

Please note that the institutionalized spouse will also receive a stimulus check. However, at this time, it is not known if the check will be issued separately from his / her community spouse’s check. It is our assumption that if 2018 or 2019 tax returns were filed jointly, the couple will receive one check (couples who filed joint tax returns are eligible for double the amount of a single filer), while if tax returns were filed separately, each spouse will receive an individual check. Again, for persons on Social Security, there is no need to file tax returns. In this case, checks will automatically be received in the same manner in which Social Security benefits are received.

How Much Will the Stimulus Check Be?
The amount of the stimulus check, also called an economic impact payment or recovery rebate, may be for as much as $1,200 / person.

• Individuals who earn up to $75,000 / year will receive a $1,200 check.
• Married couples, filing jointly who earn up to $150,000 / year, will receive a $2,400 check.
• Individuals who earn up to than $99,000 / year will receive a check, but it will be for less than $1,200.
• Married couples, filing jointly who earn up to $198,000 / year, will receive a check, but it will be for less than $2,400.

Payments will be based on one’s tax returns from 2018 or 2019. Please note that for disabled persons and seniors who receive Social Security payments, it is not necessary for a tax return to be filed. (Persons who receive Social Security benefits generally do not have to file a tax return). Rather, the IRS will automatically send out economic impact payments to these individuals.

Checks will be received either via direct deposit or in the mail.

SOURCE: American Council On Aging 

Will I Ever Live In A Nursing Home?

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How Much Care Will You Need?

The duration and level of long-term care will vary from person to person and often change over time. Here are some statistics (all are “on average”) you should consider:

  • Someone turning age 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term care services and supports in their remaining years
  • Women need care longer (3.7 years) than men (2.2 years)
  • One-third of today’s 65 year-olds may never need long-term care support, but 20 percent will need it for longer than 5 years

Distribution and duration of long-term care services

Type of care Average number of years people use this type of care Percent of people who use this type of care (%)
Any Services 3 years 69
 

At Home

Unpaid care only 1 year 59
Paid care Less than 1 year 42
Any care at home 2 years 65
 

In Facilities

Nursing facilities 1 year 35
Assisted living Less than 1 year 13
Any care in facilities 1 year 37

Who Pays for Long-Term Care?

The facts may surprise you.

Consumer surveys reveal common misunderstandings about which public programs pay for long-term care services. It is important to clearly understand what is and isn’t covered.

Medicare:

  • Only pays for long-term care if you require skilled services or rehabilitative care:
    • In a nursing home for a maximum of 100 days, however, the average Medicare covered stay is much shorter (22 days).
    • At home if you are also receiving skilled home health or other skilled in-home services. Generally, long-term care services are provided only for a short period of time.
  • Does not pay for non-skilled assistance with Activities of Daily Living (ADL), which make up the majority of long-term care services
  • You will have to pay for long-term care services that are not covered by a public or private insurance program

Medicaid:

  • Does pay for the largest share of long-term care services, but to qualify, your income must be below a certain level and you must meet minimum state eligibility requirements
  • Such requirements are based on the amount of assistance you need with ADL
  • Other federal programs such as the Older Americans Act and the Department of Veterans Affairs pay for long-term care services, but only for specific populations and in certain circumstances

GOOD TO KNOW

Like public programs, private sources of payment have their own rules, eligibility requirements, copayments, and premiums for the services they cover.

Health Insurance:

  • Most employer-sponsored or private health insurance, including health insurance plans, cover only the same kinds of limited services as Medicare
  • If they do cover long-term care, it is typically only for skilled, short-term, medically necessary care

There are an increasing number of private payment options including:

PLAN BEFORE YOU HAVE A NEED

Planning for the eventuality of needing long term care is critical in reducing stress and uncertainty. Meeting with an Elder Law attorney familiar with the rules of Medicaid qualification is a step in the right direction. Contact our office for a no-obligation consultation to see if developing an estate plan with the goal of Medicaid qualification is a right fit for you.

A Delicate Balance

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Developing your estate plan is a delicate balance between asset access and protection. Work with an attorney who can explain to you what your options are and helps you design that reflects your goals.

Probate & Estate Administration During COVID-19

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Probate Challenges and Estate Administration Roadblocks During COVID-19 Corona virus Pandemic

Many of our clients are in the midst of settling the estate of a deceased loved one or have just had a loved one pass away and are wondering what comes next. An event such as this has both personal and legal consequences. Below are observations on issues that may immediately present themselves.

Immediate steps may be limited by circumstance. If someone has just died and the cause of death is unknown, public health officials may limit the immediate steps one would usually take until the cause of death is determined and no known COVID-19 risk exists. Depending on circumstances, there may be some delay in physically getting access to the premises, securing them and searching for a will and other documents if they are not in possession of the family or the decedent’s attorney. It is always wiser to have one’s original estate planning documents safely secured off the premises and make sure a trusted individual has access to the storage place.

Once access is permitted, secure the premises if they become unoccupied. Subject to the necessary steps to ensure everyone’s safety (which may include disinfecting) the nominated personal representative may take steps, such as changing locks, necessary to secure the physical contents and financial documents which may remain in the home. These steps can be taken before one’s official appointment. If additional or condominium fees must be paid to allow enough time for an orderly inspection, appraisal, or the like, this can be treated as an expense of the estate.

The legal process of estate administration can begin and continue. While the probate courts of the states in which we conduct estate administrations have limited or closed off physical access to the public, emergency hearings (conducted telephonically) continue and many routine documents can be e-filed. Routine non-contested wills can still be allowed; while reduced staffing at courts may stretch the time frames somewhat, these processes, at least for the present, continue as before. Where that time frame may cause harm to a beneficiary or in some cases, the assets, if the court deems such circumstances an emergency, a hearing to rush the appointment of a temporary fiduciary, called a “executor” or “special personal representative,” can be requested.

Most financial activities can be conducted. With overnight shipping, and technologies such as scanning, secure e-mail, electronic funds transfers, and electronic document signatures, most financial transactions can be conducted virtually once the identities of the parties are established in a fashion compliant with the financial institution’s practices. Thus assets can be transferred to estate or trust accounts, sold and reinvested if desired in order to properly pay estate expenses and distribute funds to beneficiaries. Notarizations still require physical presence although there is a move afoot to accept signatures performed over a videoconference.

Once appointed, electronic communications are vital. As a fiduciary, personal representatives and trustees must take special care to maintain transparency and good chains of communication with each other and the beneficiaries. In a typical administration, one or more introductory or status meetings may occur between co-fiduciaries and the attorney, some with beneficiaries present. Since these will not occur during this unprecedented time, most communication should be in writing. Email has become the standard, often with multiple co-recipients.

Need to speak to an attorney about issues your confronted with during the Pandemic, call our office 401-274-0300 for a no cost phone consultation.

Estate Planning and the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Estate Planning Amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic has impacted every corner of the world at this point. As medical experts, financial advisors, and our colleagues that specialize in healthcare law, employment law, and other related areas are busy advising clients on the best course of action for the weeks and months ahead, we – as estate planners – also want to remind our clients and friends of some important considerations during these uncertain times.

At this point, we would simply promote the following actions to ensure that your estate planning affairs are in order:

(1) Review your existing documents. Make sure that you have copies (either paper or electronic) of your existing estate planning documents, and review them to confirm that they still reflect your wishes. If you cannot locate your documents, consider calling or emailing your estate planning attorney to obtain copies.

(2) Pinpoint any items that require attention sooner rather than later. As you review, take note of any major changes that may have occurred in your family since you last updated your estate plan. These might include child births, deaths, marriages, divorces, etc. And also consider whether the individuals that you previously appointed to serve as your agents are still appropriate.

(3) Follow up with your loved ones and advisors.

  • Make sure that your loved ones know to contact your estate planning attorney in the event anything should happen to you. This includes your named executor (i.e. personal representative under your will, or trustee of your trust), guardian for your minor children, attorney-in-fact under your financial durable power of attorney, and patient advocate under your health care power of attorney.
  • Consider reaching out to your financial advisor, insurance advisor, etc. to ensure that your beneficiary designations are up to date and discuss any new planning opportunities relative to your current financial status.
  • If you require any medical attention in the near future, confirm that your medical provider has a copy of your patient advocate designation and is informed as to who you wish to have access to your confidential health information.

NOTE – If you do not already have an estate plan, now is as good of a time as any to consider the opportunity before you. Having a will/trust, a durable general power of attorney, and a healthcare power of attorney can certainly contribute to a healthy state of mind.

When Should I Update My Estate Plan?

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Estate Planning is time well spent

Preparing an estate plan can be a lot of work, both for the planner but especially for the client. And when that process is over, and the plan has been properly put in place through effective trust funding and asset titling, it is common for the client to not think about the plan again for years at a time.

Generally speaking, we recommend that clients review their planning every three to five years. But, there are very specific family and financial events that may occur during that time that make updating the estate plan crucial. Marriage or divorce, the death of a spouse, the birth (or death) of a child or grandchild, the marriage (or divorce) of a child, significant increases (or decreases) in personal wealth, receiving a substantial inheritance or gift, the sale (or acquisition) of significant business assets, moving to another state, and changes in clients’ relationships with their personal representatives, trustees, or other appointees, are just a few of the most common events that should motivate clients to review their estate planning documents.

Additionally, changes in the law, both at the state level and at the federal level (particularly with regard to the tax code), also should spur a review of the estate plan. We as planners do our best to notify existing and former clients on these types of changes, but it is not feasible to contact everyone that might be affected. For example, the significant changes to the estate tax exemption in the last decade, especially with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in late 2017, have made simplifying estate tax-driven plans much more common.

Overall, the best time to review is when you are worried, concerned or otherwise are wondering if things need to be changed. Most attorneys will not charge for the periodic check in unless and until changes need to be made to your plan. Thus, err on the side of caution and pick up the phone and call. Its better than regretting missed opportunities.

Ready to discuss you plan? Contact us today for a no-cost or obligation consultation.

Protecting Asset for the Healthy Spouse

By Estate Planning

How Can I Pre-Plan Now to Protect Assets For the Healthy Spouse?

Under the Medicaid rules, if either spouse moves to a nursing home, he or she will become eligible for Medicaid to pay for his or her care when the savings have been spent down to $4,000 for the institutionalized spouse and, after no more than $126,420 is deemed available for the community spouse (in 2019). If you took no other planning steps, the balance of your savings would have to be spent down to these levels. However, three approaches can permit you to keep most or all of your savings: (1) purchase an immediate annuity, (2) create and fund an irrevocable income only trust; or (3) spend the excess assets on permissible goods that preserve their value.

Purchase an Annuity

The spouse at home has the option of transforming his or her excess assets into an income stream by purchasing an annuity. The terms of the annuity must be carefully observed, which will be important with respect to the annuity’s passing muster with the Medicaid regulations.

Create and Fund and Income Only Trust

You can make transfers to your children or into trust for their benefit, reserving the ability to live in any real estate transferred and to receive income from the assets in the trust. Doing so would cause up to five years of ineligibility for Medicaid. So you would need to be comfortable with the amount of funds you would keep for yourselves. This option is very popular with many clients as it offers a great deal of protection with a manageable amount of loss of control and access to transferred assets. Understanding the rules of the trust are important before using this trust.

Spend Down Excess Resources

You may also pay off any debts you may have or pay for goods and services you may need or desire. This includes repairs to your house, clothing, personal items, prepaying your funeral, and anything else you may like. Medicaid penalizes transfers or gifts, but not spending if the spending is for the benefit of the Medicaid applicant or his or her spouse.

In addition to taking one or more of the steps described above, if one of you moves to a nursing home, you should transfer all of your assets into the other’s name. He or she should also have a will that disinherits the nursing home spouse. Otherwise, if the healthy spouse passes away first, all of his or her assets will go to the nursing home spouse and have to be spent down to $4,000.

As you can see, there are a number of options available. You cannot choose the best one ahead of time because the proper course of action depends on your situation when one of you moves to a nursing home, which hopefully will be many years away, if it happens at all. At that time, it is critical to meet with an attorney to discuss these options and decide on a course of action that best fits for you while maintaining Medicaid eligibility.