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How to Balance Homeownership and Medicaid

You own your home but are facing the prospect of needing Medicaid to pay for long term nursing home care. You will now have to figure out how to balance homeownership and Medicaid. The challenges begin when homeowners don’t do any Medicaid planning and decide the best answer is simply to gift their home to their children. It doesn’t always work out well for the homeowners or their children, warns the article “Owning real estate without jeopardizing Medicaid paying for nursing home” from limaohio.com.

A key tax avoidance opportunity is usually missed, when real property is gifted outright. The IRS says that if someone owns real estate, when that person passes, the heirs may eliminate a large portion of the taxable gains, if the real estate ends up being sold by an heir for more than the original owner paid for the property.

Let’s walk through an example of how homeownership and Medicaid works. Let’s say Terry buys a farm for $1,000. The cost to buy the farm is referred to as a “tax basis.”

If the family is planning for the possibility of nursing home costs, Terry might want to give that farm away to her children Ted and Zach. She needs to do it at least five years before she thinks she’ll need Medicaid to pay for long-term nursing care, because of a five-year lookback.

When Terry gifts the farm to Ted and Zach, the two children acquire Terry’s tax basis of $1,000. Ted gets $500 of the tax basic credit, and so does Zach.

The years go by and Ted wants to buy out Zach’s half of the farm. The farm is now worth $5,000. So, Ted pays Zach $2,500 for Zach’s half of the farm. Zach now has a tax basis of $500, which is not subject to tax. And Ted receives $2,000 more than his $500 tax basis, and Ted will need to pay capital gains on that $2,000 gain.

It could be handled smarter from a tax perspective. If Terry owns the farm when she dies, then Ted and Zach get the farm through her will, trust or whatever estate planning method is used. If the farm is worth $3,000 when Terry dies, then Ted and Zach will get a higher tax basis: $3,000 in total, or $1,500 each. By owning the farm when Terry dies, she gives them the opportunity to have their tax basis (and amount that won’t be taxed if they sell to each other or to anyone else) adjusted to the value of the property when Terry dies. In most cases, the value of real estate property is higher at the time of death than when it was purchased initially.

There’s another way to transfer ownership of the farm that works even better for everyone concerned. In this method, Terry continues to own the farm, helping Zach and Ted avoid taxes, and keeps the property out of her countable assets for Medicaid. The solution is for Terry to keep a specific type of life estate in the farm. This needs to be prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney, so that Terry won’t have to sell the farm if she eventually needs to apply for Medicaid for long term care.

Your estate planning attorney can assist you in deciding how to balance homeownership and Medicaid. He or she will help your family navigate protecting your home and other assets, while benefiting from smart tax strategies.

If you would like to learn more about nursing home costs and Medicaid, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: limaohio.com (Nov. 7, 2020) “Owning real estate without jeopardizing Medicaid paying for nursing home”

 

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Probate Is Required For A Surviving Spouse

Probate, also called “estate administration,” is the management and final settlement of a deceased person’s estate. It is conducted by an executor, also known as a personal representative, who is nominated in the will and approved by the court. Probate is required for a surviving spouse. Estate administration needs to be done when there are assets subject to probate, regardless of whether there is a will, says the article “Probating your spouse’s will” from The Huntsville Item.

Probate is the formal process of administering a person’s estate. Probate is required for a surviving spouse. In the absence of a will, probate also establishes heirship. In some regions, this is a quick and easy process, while in others it is a lengthy, complex and expensive process. The complexity depends upon the size and value of the estate, whether a proper estate plan was prepared by the decedent prior to death and if there are family members or others who might contest the will.

Family dynamics can cause a tremendous amount of complications and delays, especially if the family has blended children from prior marriages or if a child has predeceased their parents.

There are some exceptions, when the estate is extremely small and when probate is not required. However, in most cases, it is required.

A recent District Court case ruled that a will not admitted to probate is not effective for proving title and thereby ownership, to real estate. A title company was sued for defamation after the title company issued a title report that included the statement that the decedent had died intestate, that is, without a will.

The decedent’s son, who was her executor, sued the title company because his mother did indeed have a will and the title report was defamatory. The court rejected this theory, and the case was brought to the Appellate Court to seek relief for the family. The Appellate Court ruled that until a will has been admitted to probate, it is not effective for the purpose of proving title to real property.

If a person owns real estate, they must have an estate plan to ensure that their property can be successfully transferred to heirs. When there is no estate plan, heirs find out how big a problem this can be when someone decides they want to sell the property or divide it up among family members.

Problems also arise when the family, or surviving spouse, finds that they must pay taxes on the property, or that there are expenses that must be paid to maintain the property. Without a will, the disposition of the property is determined by the state’s estate law. Things can become complicated quickly, when there is no will.

If the deceased spouse has children from outside the most recent marriage, those children may have rights to the property and end up owning a portion of the property along with the surviving spouse. However, neither the children nor the surviving spouse can sell the property without each other’s approval. This is a common occurrence.

There are also limitations as to how probate can be used to distribute and manage an estate. In some states, the time limit is four years from the date of death.

If you are a surviving spouse and required to go through probate when there is no will, an estate planning attorney can help you move through the probate process more efficiently. A better situation would be for the family to speak with their parents about having a will and estate plan created before it’s too late.

If you would like to learn more about probate, and how to protect your spouse and children, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Huntsville Item (Nov. 22, 2020) “Probating your spouse’s will”

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Deciding Between Separate or Joint Trusts

Deciding between separate or joint trusts is not as straightforward a choice as you might think. Sometimes, there is an obvious need to keep things separate, according to the recent article “Joint Trusts or Separate Trusts: Advice for Married Couples” from Kiplinger. However, it is not always the case.

A revocable living trust is a popular way to pass assets to heirs. Assets titled in a revocable living trust don’t go through probate and information about the trust remains private. It is also a good way to plan for incapacity, avoid or reduce the likelihood of a death tax and make sure the right people inherit the trust.

There are advantages to Separate Trusts:

They offer better protection from creditors. When the first spouse dies, the deceased spouse’s trust becomes irrevocable, which makes it far more difficult for creditors to access, while the surviving spouse can still access funds.

If assets are going to non-spouse heirs, separate is better. If one spouse has children from a previous marriage and wants to provide for their spouse and their children, a qualified terminable interest property trust allows assets to be left for the surviving spouse, while the balance of funds are held in trust until the surviving spouse’s death. Then the funds are paid to the children from the previous marriage.

Reducing or eliminating the death tax with separate trusts. Unless the couple has an estate valued at more than $23.16 million in 2020 (or $23.4 million in 2021), they won’t have to worry about federal estate taxes. However, there are still a dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, with state estate taxes and half-dozen states with inheritance taxes. These estate tax exemptions are considerably lower than the federal exemption, and heirs could get stuck with the bill. Separate trusts as part of a credit shelter trust would let the couple double their estate tax exemption.

When is a Joint Trust Better?

If there are no creditor issues, both spouses want all assets to go to the surviving spouse and state estate tax and/or inheritance taxes aren’t an issue, then a joint trust could work better because:

Joint trusts are easier to fund and maintain. There is no worrying about having to equalize the trusts, or consider which one should be funded first, etc.

There is less work at tax time. The joint trust doesn’t become irrevocable, until both spouses have passed. Therefore, there is no need to file an extra trust tax return. With separate trusts, when the first spouse dies, their trust becomes irrevocable and a separate tax return must be filed every year.

Joint trusts are not subject to higher trust tax brackets, because they do not become irrevocable until the first spouse dies. However, any investment or interest income generated in an account titled in a deceased spouse’s trust, now irrevocable, will be subject to trust tax brackets. This will trigger higher taxes for the surviving spouse, if the income is not withdrawn by December 31 of each year.

In a joint trust, after the death of the first spouse, the surviving spouse has complete control of the assets. When separate trusts are used, the deceased spouses’ trust becomes irrevocable and the surviving spouse has limited control over assets.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you decide between separate or joint trusts based on which is best for your situation. This is a complex topic, and this is just a brief introduction.

If you would like to learn more about estate planning for married couples, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 20, 2020) “Joint Trusts or Separate Trusts: Advice for Married Couples”

 

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There is a Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Many people see dementia and Alzheimer’s as the same thing. However, there is a difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms that affect memory, communication abilities and activities of daily activities. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia. It affects roughly 60-80% of the people with dementia.

Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, and dementia is a syndrome or category, explains The Advocate in its recent article “Alzheimer’s Q&A: What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?”

It usually is seen in those persons age 65 and older.

Dementia symptoms can result from other causes that develop earlier in life, like Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which can show up in middle age or earlier.

Both dementia and Alzheimer’s can cause memory impairment, language difficulties, as well as cognitive decline.

Common symptoms linked to Alzheimer’s include the following:

  • Difficulty remembering recent events and conversations
  • Depression
  • Personality and behavioral changes
  • Impaired judgment
  • Trouble speaking; and
  • Confusion and disorientation.

Some causes of dementia will share these symptoms. However, they include or exclude other symptoms, which can help in making a differential diagnosis.

Alzheimer’s disease is degenerative, incurable and irreversible. This illness is the only one of the top 10 causes of death that has no prevention, maintenance, or cure.

Approximately 20% of the causes of dementia can be reversed with the proper diagnosis and treatment. These reversible conditions include the following:

  • Vitamin deficiency or metabolic disorder
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Brain tumors; or
  • HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders.

The process and assessments to land on a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease are typically more complex than other forms of dementia. A detailed medical history is taken, and other conditions are ruled out as causes for the symptoms.

Brain imaging scans may indicate pronounced brain cell death that’s associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease can only be completely confirmed after a person passes away. An autopsy will show the plaques and tangles associated with the disease. This will also exclude other causes.

If you would like to learn how dementia and other disorders impact estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Advocate (Nov. 16, 2020) “Alzheimer’s Q&A: What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?”

 

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How Do You Handle A Large Inheritance?

How do you handle a large inheritance? Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Death by inheritance: Windfall can cause complications” cautions that in a community property state, if you’re married, your inheritance is separate property. It will stay separate property, provided it’s not commingled with community funds or given to your spouse. That article says that it is much harder to do than it looks.

One option is for you and your spouse to sign a written marital agreement that states that your inheritance (as well as any income from it) remains your separate property. However, you have to then be careful that you keep it apart from your community property.

If your spouse doesn’t want to sign such an agreement, then speak to an attorney about what assets in your inheritance can safely be put into a trust. If you do this, take precautions to monitor the income and keep it separate.

Another route is to put your inheritance into assets held in only your name and segregate the income from them. This is important because income from separate property is considered community property.

Another tip for handling a large inheritance, is to analyze it by type of asset. IRAs and other qualified funds take very special handling to avoid unnecessary taxes or penalties. If you immediately cash out your inherited traditional IRA, you’ll forfeit a good chunk of it in taxes. If you don’t take the mandatory distribution of a Roth IRA, you’re going see a major penalty.

Inherited real estate has its own set of issues. If you inherited only part of a piece of real property, then you’ll have to work with the other owners as to its use, maintenance, and/or sale. For example, your parents’ summer home is passed to you and your three siblings. If things get nasty, you may have to file a partition suit to force a sale, if your siblings aren’t cooperative. Real estate can also be encumbered by an environmental issue, a mortgage, delinquent taxes, or some other type of lien.

Some types of assets are just a plain headache: timeshares, partnership, or entity interests that don’t have a buy-sell agreement, along with Title II weapons (which may be banned in your state).

You can also refuse an inheritance by use of a disclaimer. It’s a procedure where you decline to take part or all of an inheritance.

Finally, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney that is familiar with how to handle a large inheritance, so you can incorporate that inheritance into your own estate plan.

If you would like to learn more about inheritance, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Nov. 10, 2020) “Death by inheritance: Windfall can cause complications”

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Estate Planning Presents Emotional Challenges

More than two-thirds of all advisors surveyed by Key Private Bank said the hardest part of estate planning is navigating family dynamics, according to a 2019 survey. The sensitivity of simply talking about estate planning presents emotional challenges to putting a plan in place, especially when the family includes multiple marriages and blended families.

Advice is offered in a recent news article from CNBC, “Executor of a Family Estate? Here’s How to Avoid Infighting Over Inherited Wealth.”

Much of the problem, experts say, stems from poor communication. A dialogue needs to be open between generations that is a two-way conversation. In most instances, the older generation needs to invite the younger generation to get the ball rolling.

A lack of clarity and transparency can lead to problems. One example is a father leaving the family farm to his children, with a plan that also included money to help run the farm and legal documents to help the transition go smoothly. However, the children didn’t want the farm. They wanted to sell. Disagreements broke out between siblings, and the family was bogged down in a big fight.

Clearly Dad needed to talk with the children, while his estate plan was being created. The children needed to be upfront and honest about their plans for the future, and the issue could have been solved before the father’s death. The lesson: talk about your wishes and your children’s wishes while you are living.

After someone dies, they may leave behind an entire estate, with a lifetime of personal items that they want to gift to family members. However, if these items are not listed in the will, the heirs have to decide amongst themselves who gets what. This is asking for trouble, whether the items have sentimental or financial value. In fact, sentimental items often generate the most controversy.

When conflicts arise, the presence of a third party who doesn’t have emotional attachments and is not embroiled in the family dynamics can be helpful.

If the issue is not addressed before death, there are a few ways to move forward. An estate planning attorney who has seen many families go through the emotional challenges of estate planning can offer suggestions while the will is being prepared. There are facilitators or mediators who can help, if things get really rocky.

Heirs may wish to create a list of items that they would like to be reviewed by the executor. This option works best, if the executor is not a sibling, otherwise charges of favoritism and “Mom always liked you best” can spiral into family spats.

Some families group items into buckets of equal value, others set up a lottery to determine who picks first, second, etc., and some families literally roll the dice to make decisions.

If you would like to learn more about inheritance and distributing personal property, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: CNBC (Nov. 12, 2020) “Executor of a Family Estate? Here’s How to Avoid Infighting Over Inherited Wealth”

 

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Probate can affect Real Estate Transactions

Probate can affect real estate transactions. For a family whose 91-year-old mother lives in her home, has a will and has appointed two sisters as Power of Attorney and executors of her estate, the question of handling the transfer of the home is explored in a recent article from the Herald Tribune, “Transfer title now or go through probate in the future?”

The family wasn’t sure if it made more sense to transfer the title to her two daughters and son while she was still living, or let the children handle the transfer as part of the estate. The brother may wish to purchase the home after the mother passes, as he lives with his mother.

If nothing is done, the house will be part of the probated estate. A case will have to be opened, a representative will be appointed by the court (usually the executor of the will) and then the executor can sell assets in the estate, close accounts and deal with the IRS and the Social Security Administration. The probate process can be time-consuming and expensive, depending on where the mother lives.

There are a number of steps that could be taken to simplify things. The mom’s assets can be held jointly, so they pass to the surviving owner, or a trust can be created, and her assets be titled to the trust, so they pass automatically to beneficiaries.

The issue of the house becomes a little more complicated because there are so many options. This is where probate can affect real estate transactions. If the house has appreciated significantly over the years, keeping it in the estate will minimize taxes that have to be paid if and when it is sold.

For example, let’s say the house has increased in value by $250,000. Under current tax law, the mother can exclude up to $250,000 in profits from the sale of the home. This is the exclusion before the sale of a primary residence where the owner has lived in the home for two out of the last five years.

If she signs a quitclaim deed now to give the home to her three children, the IRS will consider this a gift to the three children. Her cost basis in the property (what she paid for the home, plus the cost of any material or structural improvements) will be transferred to the children. However, when the children go to sell the property, they won’t have that same $250,000 exclusion. The three siblings will have to pay federal income or capital gains tax on the same of the home.

However, if the home remains in the mother’s estate when she passes, the siblings inherit the home at the stepped-up basis. In other words, the value of the house (for estate tax purposes) will rise to the current market value at the time of her death, and not the value when she paid for the house. If the children decide to sell the house immediately, there won’t be any profit and there won’t be any taxes.

Depending on the state’s probate laws, the children might be able to use a transfer on death deed that would let the property transfer automatically to heirs upon the mother’s death. The siblings then inherit the property at the stepped-up value.

Here’s another question to consider: how does the cost of setting up trusts and transfer on death deeds compare to the estimated cost of probating the estate?

This family, and others in the same situation, should speak with an estate planning attorney to evaluate their options. The siblings in this case need to clarify whether their brother wants to buy the house and if he is able to do so. The mom then needs to make a decision, while she is still able to do so, because after all, it’s still her home.

If you would like to learn more about how to protect the family home for future generations, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Herald-Tribune (Nov. 7, 2020) “Transfer title now or go through probate in the future?”

 

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Implementing Succession Plans Before Year Ends

Anyone with a taxable estate that includes an operating business should be looking into the efficacy of making gifts in 2020 to take advantage of a unique set of circumstances, advises the article “Why Now is the Right Time to Execute Succession Plans” from Worth. This could include implementing succession plans before the year ends.

The federal exemption from transfer taxes is at a historically high level. Individuals may transfer up to $11.58 million of assets during their lifetime without incurring federal gift, estate or generation skipping transfer tax (GST). The current maximum federal gift and estate tax rate and the current maximum federal GST tax rate is now 40 percent. As the law stands now, this amount is not scheduled to be reduced until the end of 2025, but whether that will remain is anyone’s guess.

The IRS has stated that it will not attempt a claw back of taxes if the exemption amount decreases soon, so taxpayers who put off taking action before December 31, 2020 will miss out.

Lower Value Another Incentive to Develop a Succession Plan

It is important not forget the impact of the global pandemic. Valuations in some parts of public markets continue to be high, but many private companies have lost a lot of value. The lower appraised values can be beneficial for succession planning. If a business owner is willing to transfer all or a portion of the private company to successive generations now, that lowered appraisal value means that more wealth can be shifted. There is the possibility of growth in the future, free of gift, estate, or GST tax.

How Do Interest Rates Impact Succession Plans?

Many strategies used to transfer assets between generations are based on interest rates which are near the lowest they have ever been. Every month, the IRS releases the updated Section 7520 and Applicable Federal Rates (AFR). These are the rates used for transfer techniques like GRATs and intra-family loans. In October, the 7520 rate was 40 basis points (“bps”), and the Mid-Term Annual AFR, used for loans with terms of three to nine years was 39 bps.

Succession Plans Take Time to Create

This unique combination of exemptions, low business valuations and low interest rates is likely to lead many business owners to their estate planning attorney’s offices to implement succession plans before the calendar years ends. The smart move is to contact your estate planning attorney, CPA, and financial advisor as soon as possible to discuss options, and get succession plans going. There will likely be a more-than-usual last minute rush to complete many financial and legal tasks this December, and getting started as early as possible will make it more likely that your succession plan can be completed before December 31, 2020.

If you would like to learn more about gifting, and other means of reducing estate taxes, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Worth (Nov. 2, 2020) “Why Now is the Right Time to Execute Succession Plans”

 

 

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Business Owners May Need a Power of Attorney

Some business owners may need a power of attorney (POA). However, what type would be of benefit the most is the question. This article looks at the types of power of attorney and in what circumstances a business owner may need each of them.

Entrepreneur’s recent article entitled “Does Your Business Need a Power Of Attorney?” reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) defines power of attorney as a legal document that permits a trusted agent the authority to act on your behalf. Accordingly, signing a power of attorney allows the business owner to authorize another person to conduct business in his stead. The person designated in the document is called the “agent” or sometimes the “attorney-in-fact.” There are three main types of power of attorney:

Financial Power of Attorney. This document allows the agent to deal with the financial responsibilities and functions of the “principal” (the person who signs the document), if the principal is unable to do so themselves. Some functions for the agent of a financial power of attorney include the following:

  • Delegation of the operation of your business
  • Hiring an attorney and making decisions in lawsuits
  • Filing and paying taxes
  • Conducting transactions with banks and other financial institutions
  • Making decisions on your investments and retirement plan
  • Entering into a contract
  • Purchasing of selling real estate or different types of property; and
  • Using your assets to pay for your living expenses.

Special Power of Attorney (or Limited Power of Attorney). A business owner may need to accomplish a task for the company, but she’s unable to be there because of other responsibilities. This document permits a particular agent to conduct business on her behalf, concerning a specific and clearly outlined event, like opening a bank account, settling a lawsuit, or signing a contract.

Healthcare Power of Attorney. An individual who is incapacitated and can’t communicate, can use this to permit an agent to make medical decisions on his behalf. Note that a healthcare power of attorney isn’t the same as a living will. A living will focuses on a person’s preferences for healthcare treatment, such as do-not-resuscitate and other religious or philosophical beliefs that they want to be respected. A healthcare power of attorney is more flexible and leaves the decisions regarding healthcare to the agent. A living will concerns end-of-life decisions only, where healthcare power of attorney applies in all medical situations.

Durable Power of Attorney. A POA usually becomes effective when a person is incapacitated and stops once they’re able to make their own decisions. However, a durable power of attorney or enduring power of attorney may be applied to any of the types mentioned above. As a result, the agent can make decisions on behalf of a business owner when they aren’t incapacitated.

Business owners may need a Power of attorney to provide protections that will help deal with regular operations, while the owner is unable to lead the company. If the business is an LLC or corporation, a power of attorney for the company may not be needed. However, it’s wise to have one for your own estate planning. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about the types of power of attorney and how they might help your business.

If you would like to learn more about estate planning for business owners, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Entrepreneur (Nov. 3, 2020) “Does Your Business Need a Power Of Attorney?”