Steer clear of non-lawyers offering Medicaid planning services

As the U.S. population ages, more non-lawyers are starting businesses that offer Medicaid planning services to seniors. While using one of these services may be cheaper than hiring a lawyer, the ultimate costs may be far greater.

If you use a non-lawyer to do Medicaid planning, they may not have any legal knowledge or training. Bad advice can lead seniors to purchase products or take actions that won’t help them qualify for Medicaid and may actually make it more difficult. The consequences of taking bad advice can include the denial of benefits, a Medicaid penalty period or a tax liability.

As a result of problems that have arisen from non-lawyers offering Medicaid planning services, a few states (Florida, Ohio, New Jersey and Tennessee) have issued regulations or guidelines providing that Medicaid planning by non-lawyers will be considered the unauthorized practice of law. [Read more…]

Rule requiring retirement advisers to put their client’s interests ahead of their own is delayed

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order calling for a review of the so-called fiduciary rule, which was intended to prevent financial advisers from steering their clients to bad retirement investments by requiring these advisers to act in the best interests of their clients. The order delays the rule, which was scheduled to go into effect in April 2017, and the rule may ultimately be repealed.

Prompted by concern that many financial advisers have a sales incentive to recommend retirement investments with high fees and low returns to their clients because the advisers get higher commissions or other incentives, the Department of Labor drew up rules in April 2016 that would require advisers to act like fiduciaries.

The rule required all financial professionals who offer advice related to retirement savings to provide recommendations that are in a client’s best interest. Currently, financial advisers only have to recommend suitable investments, which means they can push products that may benefit them more than their clients. The rule would require advisers to not accept compensation or payments that would create a conflict unless they have an enforceable contract agreeing to put the client’s interest first. Advisers also would have to disclose any conflicts and charge reasonable compensation. [Read more…]

What is undue influence, and how can it be avoided?

Saying that there has been “undue influence” is often used as a reason to contest a will or estate plan, but what does the term mean?

Undue influence occurs when someone exerts pressure on an individual, causing that individual to act contrary to his or her wishes to the benefit of the influencer or the influencer’s friends. The pressure can take the form of deception, harassment, threats or isolation. Often the influencer separates the individual from loved ones in order to coerce him or her. The elderly and infirm are usually more susceptible to undue influence.

To prove a loved one was subject to undue influence in drafting an estate plan, you have to show that the loved one disposed of his or her property in a way that was unexpected under the circumstances, that he or she is susceptible to undue influence (because of illness, age, frailty or a special relationship with the influencer), and that the person who exerted the influence had the opportunity to do so. Generally, the burden of proving undue influence is on the person asserting that it took place. However, if the alleged influencer had a “fiduciary relationship” with the loved one (meaning that the loved one placed a high degree of trust in the influencer to handle his or her affairs), the burden may be on the influencer to prove that there was no undue influence. People who have a fiduciary relationship can include a child, a spouse or an agent under a power of attorney. [Read more…]

Understanding the tax consequences of inheriting a Roth IRA

Passing down a Roth IRA can seem like a good idea, but it doesn’t always make the most sense. Before converting a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA to benefit your heirs, you should consider the tax consequences.

Earnings in a traditional IRA generally are not taxed until they are distributed to you. At age 70 1/2 you have to start taking distributions from a traditional IRA. By contrast, contributions to a Roth IRA are taxed, but the distributions are tax-free. You also do not have to take distributions from a Roth IRA.

Leaving your heirs a tax-free Roth IRA can be used as part of an estate plan. However, in figuring out the best type of IRA to leave to your beneficiaries, you need to consider whether your beneficiary’s tax rate will be higher or lower than your tax rate when you fund the IRA. In general, if your beneficiary’s tax rate is higher than your tax rate, then you should leave your beneficiary a Roth IRA. Because the funds in a Roth IRA are taxed before they are put into the IRA, it makes sense to fund it when your tax rate is lower. On the other hand, if your beneficiary’s tax rate is lower than your tax rate, a traditional IRA might make more sense. That way, you won’t pay the taxes at your higher rate. Instead, your beneficiary will pay at the lower tax rate. [Read more…]

Medicaid’s benefits for assisted living facility residents

Assisted living facilities are a housing option for people who can still live independently but who need some help.  Costs for these facilities can range from $2,000 to more than $6,000 a month, depending on location.  Medicare won’t pay for this type of care, but Medicaid might.  Almost all state Medicaid programs will cover at least some assisted living costs for eligible residents.

Unlike with nursing home stays, there is no requirement that Medicaid pay for assisted living, and no state Medicaid program can pay directly for a Medicaid recipient’s room and board in an assisted living facility. But with assisted living costs roughly half those of a semi-private nursing home room, state officials understand that they can save money by offering financial assistance to elderly individuals who are trying to stay out of nursing homes. [Read more…]

How to pass your home to your children tax-free

Giving your house to your child or children can have tax consequences, but there are ways to accomplish this tax-free. The best method to use will depend on your individual circumstances and needs.

Leave the house in your will

The simplest way to give your house to your children is to leave it to them in your will. In 2017, as long as the total amount of your estate is under $5.49 million it will not pay estate taxes. In addition, when your children inherit property it reduces the amount of capital gains taxes they will have to pay if they sell the property. Capital gains taxes are paid on the difference between the “basis” in property and its selling price. If children inherit property, the property’s tax basis is “stepped up,” which means the basis would be the value of the property at the time of death, not the original cost of the property.

There are some downsides to this approach. Some states have smaller estate tax exemptions than the federal exemption, meaning that leaving the property in your estate may cause it to owe state taxes. Also, if you were to need Medicaid at any time before you died, a lien might be put on the property and it might need to be sold after your death to repay Medicaid. [Read more…]

IRS: Account transcripts can serve as estate tax closing letter

A recent IRS notice confirms that an account transcript issued by the IRS qualifies as a substitute for an estate tax closing letter, as long as the transcript includes the proper transaction code.

An estate tax closing letter indicates that the IRS has accepted an estate tax return and that the estate’s federal tax liabilities have been satisfied. Once the letter has been received, it makes it clear to the executor of the estate that it can proceed with finalizing the estate administration process.

The receipt of the closing letter is often needed to meet requirements for state law probate proceedings. It’s rare for the IRS to reopen an estate tax return after a closing letter has been issued, except in certain extreme circumstances such as fraud or a major error by the IRS. [Read more…]

Retirement accounts: Tips for taxpayers turning 70 1/2

It’s a big year for the first set of baby boomers: They’re turning 70 1/2. And that means getting prepared for their first mandatory distributions from tax-sheltered retirement accounts.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the amount of your required annual withdrawal is based on the assets in the account as of the prior December 31. For a taxpayer with multiple 401(k) plans, he or she must take a proportional distribution from each of the accounts. If a taxpayer has multiple IRAs, the payouts can be uneven. That is, the entire amount can be taken out of one IRA, if the taxpayer chooses. [Read more…]

New law allows individuals to create special needs trusts

Buried in a new federal law is a tiny change that will now allow individuals to set up their own special needs trusts.

The sum total of the change is two words — “the individual” — intended to correct a more than 20-year-old error. The change is called the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act.

Authorized under the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, special needs trusts protect assets and allow an individual to maintain eligibility for governmental benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid.   [Read more…]

In will contest, no need to oversell decedent’s capacity

Imagine a situation where a loved one dies and there is a contest over the validity of the will. The question arises: What was the decedent’s mental state in drafting the will?

A typical, knee jerk answer is that the decedent had a perfectly clear state of mind.

However, testamentary capacity doesn’t require such a high level of clarity in communication and comprehension. Further, overstating a decedent’s capacity might actually lead a trier of fact to become skeptical of the will proponent, especially if other evidence exists that the decedent’s mind wasn’t as clear as stated. [Read more…]