Category: Couples

Protecting the Community Spouse is Necessary

Protecting the Community Spouse is Necessary

Despite the intent of the law, allowing one spouse to remain in the family home and having enough income to live on when the other spouse needs Medicaid to pay for nursing home care does not happen automatically. According to the article “What a ‘Community’ spouse can keep” from The Bristol Press, protecting the community spouse is necessary if they are to maintain their prior standard of living.

The community spouse is entitled to have a minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance (MMNA), which changes every year. If the MMNA is $2,288.00, and the healthy spouse has an income of $1,000.00, Medicaid allows a diversion of the sick spouse’s income of the difference, or $1,288.00 per month to the healthy spouse. In most situations, this is not enough to maintain a home, pay bills and enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

An elder law lawyer can help protect assets for the community spouse. The family home is exempt, if it is in the name of the healthy spouse, although most states have a limit to the allowed value. If the sick spouse is approved for Medicaid, the healthy spouse may choose to sell the home and keep the proceeds or downsize to a smaller home.

The community spouse may keep up to $137,400.00 in investment assets in 2022. That’s considered one half of the couple’s total “countable” assets. If the couple’s investment exceeds this amount, there are a number of strategies used to protect the life savings, as long as they stay within the “spend down” rules. Money may be spent on house expenses or improvements. A new car could replace an old model.

Another method is the use of a Single Premium Immediate Annuity, sometimes referred to as a Medicaid Annuity Trust. The well spouse can purchase this and protect their life savings. However, if the well spouse dies before the sick spouse, the balance of the annuity will need to be paid to Medicaid to reimburse it for expenses paid for the care of the sick spouse.

One positive note: personal property is not considered a countable asset. Things like home furnishings, decorations, jewelry, etc., and any personal property will not be counted. Embarking on a spending spree with an eye to reselling personal property to raise cash is not a good idea, since few items maintain their value after the initial purchase.

Planning should be done in advance, when both spouses are well and healthy, because Medicaid strictly enforces the five-year look back rule. Protecting the community spouse is necessary if they are to maintain their prior standard of living. Any assets transferred within five years of a Medicaid application will make the sick spouse ineligible for Medicaid coverage, and healthcare expenses will have to be paid out of pocket. If you would like to learn more about Medicaid planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Bristol Press (July 29, 2022) “What a ‘Community’ spouse can keep”

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How to Separate Business and Marital Assets

How to Separate Business and Marital Assets

High-profile cases like the Bezos or the Gates should cause many people to consider how to separate their business and marital assets that are tied together. You need to have plans in place from the beginning. No one thinks their partnership will end. However, it’s necessary to have a plan in place, just in case.

The Dallas Business Journal’s recent article entitled “Does your business need a prenup?” explains that there are three typical outcomes when married couples working as business partners decide to end their relationship:

  • One individual buys out the other partner’s shares and continues running the business;
  • The partners sell the business and divide the proceeds; or
  • The couple continues working as partners after the divorce.

Safeguards can be put in place on the first day of the relationship to protect your personal and business assets in the event of a divorce. A way to do this is through a prenuptial agreement, which states what will happen if a split happens. A pre-nup should:

  • Establish the value of the business as of the date of marriage or the date the agreement is signed;
  • Detail a course of action with the appreciation or depreciation of the business from the date of the marriage;
  • Say how business value will be measured; and
  • Specify the allocation of business interests to be awarded to each spouse in the event of a divorce.

In addition to a prenuptial agreement, any privately held company should have a shareholder agreement (or “operating agreement” for non-corporations). The shareholder agreement is one of the most important documents owners of a closely held business will ever sign.

It controls the transfer of ownership when certain events occur, like divorce and states the following:

  • Which party will buy out the other’s shares of the company if a buyout occurs; or
  • If either party has the right to sell, how the ownership interest will be valued and the terms and conditions concerning the acquisition.

Because there are some tax implications involved in a buyout, it’s best to bring in experienced estate planning attorney for this process. In addition, life events like divorce or changes in a business partnership are an appropriate time to update your will, estate plans and any necessary insurance policies. Remember, it is important to consider how to separate business and marital assets before there is conflict. If you would like to learn more about pre-nups and other business and marital agreements, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Dallas Business Journal (Aug. 1, 2022) “Does your business need a prenup?”

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Estate planning is vital for Unmarried Couples

Estate planning is vital for Unmarried Couples

Traditional or non-traditional couples have the option of marrying, but not all couples wish to, according to a recent article from Kiplinger, “Marriage: When You’d Rather Not.”  Planning for a life together without the legal protections provided by marriage means couples of all kinds who decide not to marry must be sure to do estate planning. Otherwise, they may find themselves in life-altering situations concerning property ownership, parental rights, and inheritances. Estate planning is vital for unmarried couples. It’s a gift to give each other.

Start with a last will and testament. Unmarried couples without children need a will, if they want to leave each other property. Otherwise, the laws of most states will have property going to the legal next-of-kin, which might be parents, siblings, or cousins. No matter how many decades the couple has been together, if they are not married, they have no legal inheritance rights.

Other estate planning basics are important to protect each other while living. Without documents like a financial power of attorney and a health care proxy for both partners, medical and other health care providers might not allow your partner to make critical health decisions on your behalf. For couples where families disapprove of their unmarried status, asking a parent to make these decisions, especially in an emergency situation, could magnify a crisis or worse, lead to a result neither partner wants.

Accounts with named beneficiaries, which typically include life insurance policies, retirement funds, investment accounts and similar financial products, aren’t distributed by the terms of your will. Instead, they pass directly to beneficiaries on death. Even traditional married couples run into trouble when beneficiary designations are not updated.

Every time there is a life change, including death, birth, break-up, or any big life event, updating beneficiaries is a good idea for all concerned.

Unmarried couples with children need to be especially diligent about estate planning. If a biological parent dies, their assets go to their biological children. However, when the non-biological parent dies, all of their assets could go to other relatives, unless a will is in place and beneficiaries are properly named. What about if the non-biological parent takes the step of legally adopting the children? They should still check on their parental rights. If accounts do not have beneficiaries named, the assets will go to next of kin, a parent or sibling and not the child or partner.

Home ownership is another financial issue to tackle for unmarried couples. They need a document clearly stating how the home is owned, how much each invested in the home, who is responsible for mortgage and tax payments, how to divide the home if it’s sold and who has the right to live in the home if the couple breaks up or if one dies or becomes disabled. If a home is solely in one person’s name and the other partner dies, the surviving partner may end up being evicted if the right protections are not in place.

For unmarried couples, meeting with an estate planning attorney is vital to protect each other now and in the future. If you would like to read more about planning for unmarried couples, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (June 16, 2022) “Marriage: When You’d Rather Not.”

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Consider a Prenup in your Estate Planning

Consider a Prenup in your Estate Planning

There are some important financial decisions that need to be made before you get hitched. One of them is whether you should get a prenuptial agreement (“prenup”). This isn’t the most romantic issue to discuss, especially because these agreements usually focus on what will happen in the event of the marriage ending. However, in many cases, having tough conversations about the practical side of marriage can actually bring you and your spouse closer together. It might be wise to consider a prenup in your estate planning as well.

JP Morgan’s recent article entitled “What to know about prenups before getting married” explains that being prepared with a prenup that makes both people in a marriage feel comfortable can be a great foundation for building a financially healthy and emotionally healthy marriage.

A prenup is a contract that two people enter before getting married. The terms outlined in a prenup supersede default marital laws, which would otherwise determine what happens if a couple gets divorced or one person dies. Prenups can cover:

  • How property, retirement benefits and savings will be divided if a marriage ends;
  • If and how one person in the couple is allowed to seek alimony (financial support from a spouse); and
  • If one person in a couple goes bankrupt.

Prenups can be useful for people in many different income brackets. If you or your future spouse has a significant amount of debt or assets, it’s probably wise to have a prenup. They can also be useful if you (or your spouse) have a stake in a business, have children from another marriage, or have financial agreements with an ex-spouse.

First, have an open and honest conversation with your spouse-to-be. Next, talk to an attorney, and make sure he or she understands you and your fiancé’s unique goals for your prenup. You and your partner will then compile your financial information, your attorney will negotiate and draft your prenup, you’ll review it and sign it.

Consider that a prenup can be a useful resource for couples in many different circumstances, including  your estate planning.

It might feel overwhelming to discuss a prenup with your fiancé, but doing this in a non-emotional, organized way can save a lot of strife in the future and could help bring you closer together ahead of your big day. If you would like to learn more about prenups, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: JP Morgan (April 4, 2022) “What to know about prenups before getting married”

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how divorcing over fifty effects estate planning

How Divorcing over Fifty effects Estate Planning

If you are and older couple considering a divorce, take care to consider how divorcing over fifty effects estate planning. According to the Pew Research Center, the divorce rate has more than doubled for people over 50 since the 1990s. The Pandemic is also adding to the uptick, says AARP’s recent article entitled “Getting Divorced? It’s Time to Update Your Caregiving Plan.”

A divorce can be financially draining. Moreover, later-in-life divorces frequently impact women’s finances more than men’s. That is because in addition to depressed earnings from time spent out of the workforce raising children, women find themselves more financially vulnerable post-divorce and more likely to serve as caregivers again in the future. Even so, for partners of all genders, it is important to consider the longer-term financial outlook, not just the financial situation you’re in when you are actually dissolving the marriage.

You and your spouse will be dividing assets and liabilities and the responsibilities regarding spousal support. How one of you will live if the other gets sick or passes away should also be part of this conversation.

Consider where you’ll need to make changes. One may be removing your spouse from beneficiary designations on all your accounts. (In some states, this is automatic.) Your divorce agreement may also include buying life insurance or maintaining a trust or beneficiary designations for one another.

Create or update your estate plan immediately. You should also ask your estate planning attorney to review your marital agreement. They will have suggestions about how to align your estate plan with your divorce obligations. If you and your ex are co-parenting children, your estate plan should address who their guardians will be, if both biological parents pass away. It is also important to address who will manage any inheritance, if you don’t want your ex-spouse handling assets you may leave to your children.

Create your life care plan, which means naming health care proxies or surrogates (who will take care of your medical affairs, if you’re in need of caregiving), designating a financial power of attorney (who will take care of your finances and legal affairs), and naming a guardian for yourself if you’re incapacitated.

Consider the way in which your divorce will impact your children and extended family if you need caregiving. At a minimum, agree between yourselves what level of contact you can manage and, if you share children and loved ones, know that your lives will cross along the way.

While your marriage may not last, the connections will, so make a wise plan. Your estate planning attorney will help advise you on how divorcing over fifty effects your estate planning. If you would like to learn more about estate planning and divorce, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: AARP (Jan. 25, 2022) “Getting Divorced? It’s Time to Update Your Caregiving Plan”

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Safeguard your Inheritance from Divorce

Safeguard your Inheritance from Divorce

Even if divorce is the last thing on your mind, when an inheritance is received, its wise to treat it differently from your joint assets, advises a recent article “Revocable Inheritance Trust: Inexpensive Divorce Protection” from Forbes. After all, most people don’t expect to be divorced. However, the numbers have to be considered—many do divorce, even those who least expect it. There are a few ways to safeguard your inheritance from divorce.

Maintaining separate property is the most important step to take. If you deposit a spouse’s paycheck into the account with your inheritance, even if it was by accident, you’ve now commingled the funds.

You might get lucky and have a forensic accountant who can dissect that amount and make the argument it was a mistake, as long as it only happened once, but the Court might not agree.

Long before the Court gets to consider this point, if your ex-spouse’s attorney is aggressively pursuing this one act of commingling as enough to make the property jointly owned, you could lose half of your inheritance in a divorce.

You might also try to mount a defense of the particular account or asset being separate property, by identifying the means of transfer. Was there a deed for real estate gifted to you from a parent or a wire transfer for securities? This information will need to be carefully identified and safeguarded as soon as the inheritance comes to you, in case of any future upheavals.

To spare yourself any of this grief, there are steps to be taken now to avoid commingling. Document the source of wealth involved as a gift or inheritance, maintain the property in a wholly separate account and consider keeping it in a different financial institution than any other accounts to avoid commingling.

Another way to safeguard your inheritance, such as gifts and inherited property, against a 50% divorce rate is to use a revocable trust. Creating a revocable trust to own this separate property allows you to make changes to it any time but maintains its separate nature, by serving as a wholly separate accounting entity. The trust will own the property, while you as grantor (creator of the trust) and trustee (responsible for managing the trust) maintain control.

For a turbo-charged version of this concept, you could go with a self-settled domestic asset protection trust. This is a more complex trust and may not be necessary. Your estate planning attorney will be able to explain the difference between this trust and a revocable trust.

One clear warning: if you have already created a revocable trust to protect your estate and it is not funded, you may feel like it would be most convenient to use this already-existing trust for your inheritance. That would not be wise. You should have a completely different trust created for the inherited property, and this would also be a wise time to remember to fund the existing trust.

Using a revocable trust this way will also require customized language in your Last Will, as you’ll want standard language in the Last Will to reflect the trust being separate from your other marital property. If you would like to read more about divorce protection, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (April 13, 2022) “Revocable Inheritance Trust: Inexpensive Divorce Protection”

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Keeping the Vacation Home for Generations

Keeping the Vacation Home for Generations

Many family traditions include gatherings at vacation homes. However, leaving these properties to the next generation is not always in the best interest of the family. Some people try to make a simple solution work for a complex problem, leading to more challenges, as explained in the article “Succession planning for the family lakehouse” from NH Business Review. Keeping the vacation home in the family for generations requires solid planning.

Joint ownership among siblings can lead to disputes about how the home is used, operated and maintained. Some children want to continue using the house, while others may see it as an income stream for a rental property. There may be siblings who cannot afford to participate in the house’s upkeep and need the cash more than the tradition. When joint ownership is presented as a surprise in a will, the adult children may find themselves fighting about the vacation home, with no parent around to tell them to knock it off.

Making matters more complicated, if the siblings live in different states and the house is in a neighboring state, ownership of the real estate at death may subject the decedent’s estate to estate taxes where the property is located. As a result, the property may need to go through probate in an additional state. Every state has its own tax rules, so the transfer of joint property will have to be analyzed by an estate planning attorney knowledgeable about the laws in each state involved.

A sensible alternative is creating a Limited Liability Corporation, ideally while the original owners—the parents—are still living. The organizational documents include a certificate of organization to file with the Secretary of State and an operating agreement. The LLC will need its own taxpayer identification number, or EIN.

The operating agreement governs the management of the property and addresses the operating expenses and maintenance of the property. It should also address the process for a child to cash in on their ownership to other children. LLC operating agreements often include these items:

  • Responsibilities for operating expenses
  • Process to transfer member units or interests
  • Duties for regular maintenance, budgeting and approval of property improvements
  • Development of a property use schedule
  • Establishing rules for the home’s use

There are some costs associated with creating an LLC, including annual filing requirements. However, these will be small, when compared to the cost of family fights and untangling joint ownership.

An LLC can also offer personal liability protection from lawsuits brought by renters, creditors, or any litigants. If there is an accident resulting from work being done on the property, the owners may be shielded from the liability because they do not personally own the property, the LLC does.

In the case of divorce, bankruptcy filing, or a large judgement being filed against one of the children, the LLC will protect their interest in the property.

The real estate owned by the LLC is not part of the owner’s probate estate. This avoids the need for a second probate in the state where the property is located. Some states have adopted the Uniform Transfer on Death Security Registration Act, and the LLC membership interest can be assigned along to the terms of the beneficiary designation.

Keeping the vacation home for generations to come provides peace of mind for all in the family. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that the property and the family’s peace is preserved. If you would like to learn more about including property in your estate planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: NH Business Review (March 23, 2022) “Succession planning for the family lakehouse”

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evaluate your estate planning during a divorce

Evaluate your planning during Divorce

Divorce is never easy. Adding the complexities of estate planning can make it harder. However, it still needs to be included during the divorce process, says a recent article entitled “How to Change Your Estate Plan During Divorce from the Waco Tribune-Herald. It is smart to evaluate your estate planning during a divorce.

Some of the key things to bear in mind during a divorce include:

Is your Last Will and Testament aligned with your pending divorce? The unexpected occurs, whether planning a relaxing vacation or a contentious divorce. If you were to die in the process, which usually takes a few years, who would inherit your worldly goods? Your ex? A trust created to take care of your children, with a trusted sibling as a trustee?

Are your beneficiary designations up to date? For the same reason, make sure that life insurance policies, retirement accounts and any financial accounts allowing you to name a beneficiary are current to reflect your pending or new marital status.

Certain changes may not be made until the divorce is finalized. For instance, there are laws concerning spouses and pension distribution. You might not be able to make a change until the divorce is finalized.  If your divorce agreement includes maintaining life insurance for the support of minor children, you must keep your spouse (or whoever is the agreed-upon guardian) as the policy beneficiary.

Once the divorce decree is accepted by the court, the best path forward is to have a completely new will prepared. Making a patchwork estate plan of amendments can be more expensive and leave your estate more vulnerable after you have passed. A new will revokes the original document, including naming an executor and a guardian for minor children.

The will is far from the only document to be changed. Other documents to be created include health care directives and medical and financial powers of attorney. All of these are used to name people who will act on your behalf, in the event of incapacity.

It’s a good idea to update these documents during the divorce process. If you are in the middle of an ugly, emotionally charged divorce, the last person you want making life or death decisions as your health care proxy or being in charge of your finances is your soon-to-be ex.

Talk with your estate planning attorney about evaluating your planning during the divorce process. They will be able to make further recommendations to protect you, your children and your estate during and after the divorce. If you would like to read more about estate planning during and after divorce, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Waco Tribune-Herald (Oct. 18, 2021) “How to Change Your Estate Plan During Divorce”

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update estate plan after divorce

Update Estate Plan after Divorce

Don’t forget to update your estate plan after a divorce, or you risk your assets being distributed to your ex-spouse when you pass away.

Investopedia’s recent article “Here’s what you need to remove and add to your will when your marriage is over,” says that many states have laws that, after a divorce, automatically revoke gifts to a former spouse listed in a will. There are states that also revoke gifts to family members of a former spouse. If you’re in a state that has such a law, gifts to former stepchildren would also be revoked after your divorce.

Most married people leave everything in their will to their surviving spouse. If that’s the way that your will currently reads, be certain that you change your ex as a beneficiary and add a new beneficiary. Remember that many types of assets are passed outside of a will, such as life insurance, 401k’s and other investments. Therefore, you must change the beneficiary designation on those documents.

Property Transfers. Update your will for any property gained or lost during the divorce. If you have assets that are specifically identified in your will, be sure to update them for any changes that may have happened because of the divorce.

The Executor of your Will. If your ex-spouse is named in your will as your executor, you should change this.

A Guardian for Minor Children. If you have children with your ex-spouse, you will want to update your will to appoint a guardian, if you and your ex-spouse pass suddenly at the same time. If you die, your children will likely be raised by your ex-spouse.

The Best Way to Change Your Will After Divorce. It’s easy: tear up your old will (literally) and begin again because you probably left everything or almost everything to your spouse in your original will. Just because you’re legally married until a judge signs a divorce decree, you can still modify your will or estate plan at any time. Ask an estate planning attorney because there some actions you can’t take until the divorce is final.

Can an Ex Challenge Your Will? An ex-spouse or even ex-de facto partner can challenge the will of a former spouse or partner. Whether the challenge will be successful will depend on the court’s interpretation of a number of factors.

A divorce is one of those times in life when you cannot forget to update your estate plan. There could be significant consequences to your inaction. Sit down with an estate planning attorney right away to review your plans. If you would like to learn more about estate planning and divorce, please visit our previous posts.  

Reference: Investopedia (Sep. 14, 2021) “Here’s what you need to remove and add to your will when your marriage is over”

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you should consider a prenup over 60

You should Consider a Prenup over 60

If you are planning to get married, you should consider a prenup over 60 years of age. A “prenup” can spell out which expenses will belong to each individual and which will be for the couple. In addition, a prenup can state where marital assets will go in case of death or divorce, says FedWeek’s recent article entitled “A Prenup May Be Prudent for Later-Life Marriages.”

In some states, a prenuptial agreement is called an “antenuptial agreement” or a “premarital agreement.”

Sometimes the word “contract” is used rather than “agreement,” as in “prenuptial contract.”

An agreement made during marriage, rather than before, is known as a “postnuptial,” “post-marital,” or “marital” agreement.

For a prenup to be valid, each party should seek the advice of an attorney. These attorneys should be independent of each other, so one attorney shouldn’t represent both parties. The agreement should fully disclose each spouse-to-be assets and liabilities.

Here are some reasons that some people want a prenup:

  • Pass separate property to children from your prior marriages. A marrying couple with children from prior marriages may sign a prenup to state what will occur to their assets when they die, so that they can pass on separate property to their children and still provide for each other, if necessary. Without a prenup, a surviving spouse may have the right to claim a large piece of the other spouse’s property, resulting in much less for the stepchildren.
  • Clarify financial rights. Couples with or without children may just want to clarify their financial rights and responsibilities during marriage.
  • Avoid disagreements in a divorce. A couple may want to avoid potential arguments if they divorce, by stating in advance the way in which their property will be divided, and whether or not either spouse will receive alimony (some states won’t allow a spouse to give up the right to alimony).
  • Protection from debts. These agreements can also be used to protect spouses from each other’s debts, and they may also speak to a number of other issues.

Some prenups have been ruled invalid by the courts, when one spouse appears to have pressured the other to sign the contract right before the wedding. To implement a prenup, don’t wait until the last minute. Before making marriage plans, consider creating a prenup if you are over 60. If you would like to read more about second marriages, or marriage later in life, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: FedWeek (Aug. 25, 2021) “A Prenup May Be Prudent for Later-Life Marriages”

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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