ASSET PROTECTION- WHAT DOES THAT MEAN

A person interested in conserving their assets and conveying them to the next generation may have heard of the concept of asset protection. You will find it is not as simple as giving your assets to the kids and hoping for the best.  The tools used vary greatly and one should consider the least costly and most efficient process after evaluation of all the possible solutions.  The difficulty is that asset protection can mean a lot of different processes and legal tools, some simple and some very complex.  This is an area where expert advice is absolutely required.

The general rule is that your assets should be available to satisfy your expenses and payment of your creditors.  In order to shield assets from creditor claims, it is necessary to anticipate and plan in advance the transfer of title to assets before the claims arise.  Otherwise, the transferring party has likely engaged in a fraudulent conveyance, which a court can reverse.  The various forms in which  asset protection can arise might be as simple as incorporation of improvements into personal residential property,  placing property in a limited liability company, forming a family limited partnership, creating a domestic asset protection trust, (which is an irrevocable trust), or creating an offshore trust, held in a foreign country.

The complexity and cost of such transactions varies greatly.  The right choice takes into consideration many factors, including your age, health, trustee selection, potential beneficiaries, potential liability sources, and goals.  When done well, the party creating an asset protection plan can rest knowing that their goal of preservation of property has been accomplished.

TAX PLANNING – AGAIN

I spent over 30 years analyzing and planning estates for my clients to minimize the bite of estate tax. The mechanisms were complex, not logical, and for many a burden. But in those days before tax reform, the family business, the family farm, and live savings were all exposed to state and federal estate tax that made such planning necessary to minimize their impact.

They’re gone – almost. The Ohio estate tax is gone and the federal filing threshold is $5.9M. But now, the most important tax issue is basis and capital gains tax for beneficiaries. Since property transfers to the next generation more often now in the form of an IRA, annuity, or some survivorship designation, it is important, if you want to preserve assets, to understand how each works and the income tax impact on beneficiaries.

You can do this planning yourself if you understand this, but most don’t. Don’t leave this to chance – come talk to us because the tax bite can still hurt.

DEPRESSION AND THE CAREGIVER GUILT

I regularly meet with sons, daughters, and spouses of an elder client who is failing. These close relatives often attempt to be the “care giver” for the failing elder, fulfilling their wish to remain at home.
While that is a laudable goal and one that many share, I always caution the caregiver to be very careful about burnout from trying to do too much, both mentally and physically. Care giving for a failing elder is stressful and when it is an around-the-clock obligation, the health of the caregiver is sometimes at risk.
Solutions are very family specific, depending upon who is available. One important theme is for a caregiver to be self-forgiving. I like the myths that my friends at Right at Home, a home health agency recently listed. Each of these (with my paraphrasing) is not true:
• I need to be perfect – no;
• I should only have positive thoughts about what I am doing – no;
• I shouldn’t talk about what I’m experiencing – no;
• I shouldn’t let others know about what is going on – no;
• My needs need to take a back seat to the services I am providing –no;
• Other caregivers are better at this than me and have a better attitude –no;
• I should do it all myself – no.
Caregivers – protect yourself. Dark, cold winter days will increase the chance for depression. Get some relief and thank you for what you do.

Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (aka PATH Act)

On December 18 last year, the above named act was signed into law. The PATH Act made permanent dozens of provisions which were set to expire. These provisions are no longer subject to expiration. This is not to be taken as tax or legal advice but merely to focus a light on the possibilities which exist for tax and legal planning toward the end of the year. Here is a sampling of the newly permanent benefits which might be of interest to different taxpayers.

1. Above the Line Deduction for Teachers’ Classroom Expenses. Kindergarten thru 12 grade teachers can deduct up to $250 of unreimbursed expenses relating to books, equipment, supplies and even some software. While that does not sound like a lot to many educators, just remember the old adage, “it all adds up” or “a nickel richer.”

2. Deduction of Mortgage Insurance Premiums. 2006 Legislation created an itemized deduction for premiums paid or accrued on qualified mortgage insurance. Generally, this type of insurance is acquired in connection with debt on a qualified residence.

3. Qualified Charitable Distributions from IRAs. In years past, persons age 70 ½ or older can exclude from gross income up to $100,0000 in “qualified charitable distributions” from either a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. These distributions are not deductible as charitable contributions, but the exclusion from gross income is even a better result for the taxpayer. A qualified charitable distribution is any distributions from an IRA made by the trustee directly to the public charity.

4. College Tuition. Through 2016 there continues to be an above the line deduction for “qualified tuition and related expenses”. The deduction limit is $4,000 with the full deduction only available to taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $65,000 or less (or $130,000 for married filing jointly). If income exceeds the aforementioned limits then the maximum deduction is $2,000.

5. Conservation Easements. The limitations for contributions of property for purposes of conservation have also been expanded. It used to be in exchanged for placing qualified property into conservation like a land trust, the taxpayer could deduct 30% for any one year and carryover up to five years. Now, the he or she may deduct up to 50% of his or her contribution base with a carryover of 15 years. If he or she is what is a called a “qualified farmer or rancher” the 50% limitation increases to 100% with the 15 year carryover. To be “qualified”, the farmer or rancher’s gross income from farming or ranching concerns must exceed 50% of their total gross income. You can see where there may be opportunity for planning in situations where the taxpayer does not have an aversion to these types of conservation efforts.

These are just a few expansions available to individual taxpayers. The purpose of this article is not for tax or legal advice. Again, we are simply focusing a light on the possibilities which exist for tax and legal planning as we come toward the end of another tax year. All readers should consult with an independent professional prior to taking any action. We hope your fall continues to be wonderful as you bring in your harvest.

PREPARING FOR WINTER – AND SAVING MONEY

It has been part of the cycle of life to do certain things in season.  As we enter the fall, we see the farmers gathering the harvest, the boats of summer being put in storage, our furnace filters being replaced, leaves being raked and a host of other “fall” action items.  The holidays and family-gatherings are just around the corner.

Fall is a good time to also get your affairs in order so you can spend a comfortable, content winter by the fire or go south.   And everyone has a best way to do that – some with simple account registration changes, others with wills and powers-of-attorney, and some with trust arrangements.  Each family situation is different and what is a good fit for one might be too complex or too expensive for someone else.

Yes, trusts are great and the best tool in some situations, but don’t buy the sales pitch “You need a trust” until you meet with us, to explain where trusts work best and whether it fits your situation.   A Corvette is a great, fun car to drive but try driving to work in one through the snow.  When you have the right vehicle, you save money.

We can survive the winter that is coming but it will be much easier if we prepare now.

FIVE REASONS TO NEVER GIVE AN OUTRIGHT INHERITANCE TO YOUR CHILDREN

If you’re like me, you want to leave an inheritance for your children. But giving outright ownership of our assets to the kids could put everything you’ve worked so hard to leave behind at risk. Why? Let me give you five reasons and then show you the way to protect your kids’ inheritance for many, many generations.

1. Your Child’s Future Divorce
Approximately forty-two percent (42%) of our children will divorce during their lifetime. In most divorces property is divided evenly. So if you have a married child, or a child who will get married in the future, and you leave them an inheritance, and they later divorce, as much as half of their inheritance could go to their ex-spouse. You aren’t working as hard as you are to support your child’s future ex-spouse, right? Good news, there is an alternative!

2. Extreme Debt/Bankruptcy
Your child may incur such extreme debt that the only possible relief will come through bankruptcy. Possible causes of such debt are a business venture gone bad or a health event, such as addiction, mental illness, accident, or disease that results in either a temporary or permanent inability to work in combination with staggering medical bills. Bankruptcy does happen to good people, and you can ensure that the inheritance you leave behind will never be at risk due to a mistake or health issue.

3. Lawsuit
Unintended neglect that injures someone’s person or property could wipe out an inheritance you leave your children. For example, in a 2009 case in Florida, the defendants thought they were doing the neighbors’ son an act of kindness by allowing him the “fun” of driving the four wheeler around the family property. Apparently, they didn’t tell the young man about the barb wire on the property. Their good intended neglect, resulting in the decapitation of their neighbor’s son, was not seen as good by the parents or the court, who ordered the $20 million judgment. In sum, good intended, but neglectful behavior on the part of your children could wipe out any inheritance you leave them.

4. Mismanagement:
I have many clients who tell me they do not trust their children to manage money. This could mean that their children are spendthrifts, unwise investors, or easily manipulated out of the money. And, the statistics support this.

According to Prof. Jay L. Zagorsky of Ohio State University, 18.7 % of individuals who inherit more than $100,000 will spend or lose the entire inheritance. On average individual who inherit lose 50% of the money. It’s quite likely that if that inheritance was left in a different way those numbers would greatly improve. I’ll share more with you about that below.

5. Lost Work Ethic:
My father once said, “Some people can’t handle prosperity.” He was right.

For example, Thomas Stanley and William Danko in their book, The Millionaire Next Door, uncovered research showing that children who received an inheritance were worth four-fifths less than others in their same profession who didn’t. Vic Preisser, of the Institute for Preparing Heirs, says that unprepared children who inherit money are susceptible to excessive spending, identity loss, and guilt over receiving money they didn’t earn. Preisser says, “In a year to 18 months, everything falls apart — marriage, finances — and if there is a drug problem it becomes worse.” Thus leaving an outright inheritance to our kids, may do harm instead of good. But there is an alternative!

As we can see, an outright inheritance is NOT the best answer for your kids.

Our office can assist you or your family in what to do instead.

Is That A Loan or A Gift?

My dad always said, “Do not loan it, unless you are willing to give it away.” You know the scenario. Your neighbor or brother borrows your bolt cutters and “man they’re gone!” You have a better chance of retrieving keys from a river of molten lava than seeing those bolt cutters or your mom’s cake pan return to their proper place. Now imagine what it looks like when the receiver thinks the property (i.e. cash, vehicle, even house) is a “gift”, while the giver thinks it is a “loan.”

 

 

Yep, I’m sure you’re chuckling but you know it’s true. As attorneys we experience this all the time. I had a client whose ex-in-laws demanded repayment of a “loan”. The exes gave some property to the client and client’s spouse during the marriage. Now that the marriage was no more, the exes are calling the gift a loan, demanding repayment with interest in an amount pulled out of thin air. The problem was there is nothing in writing.

 

 

There are numerous practical problems in gifting. First, will the contested amount be worth your time and money with an attorney. Think of a $500 lawnmower. Who is going to engage a lawyer at $200-400/hour for the hope, as there are no guarantees of winning any suit in court, to get a used $500 lawnmower or $500 back. Second, they say relationships are the only thing you take to heaven. How many relationships have been ruined over “stuff”? I will not represent someone whose core purpose is to harm others.

 

 

Remember this: If you are loaning it out, be willing to give it away. If you are not willing to give it away, get it in writing and preferably secure your loan with right to the borrower’s property in a proportionate amount. If the amount is significant to you, engage an attorney in the beginning. It will save you a lot of future angst. Finally, if it is a gift, there are scenarios where memorializing it in writing is not only prudent but wise.

AGE in PLACE- WHERE?

“Aging in Place” has become a preference I often hear from clients. It is usually shorthand for a fear of spending last days in an institution like a nursing home.

The reality, as shown by joint study done by an investment firm and AgeWave, shows many seniors have already moved or planned to move to a place they will own – a newer home with modern appliance, no steps, and much less maintenance, such as a condominium. And why are they moving? As reported by Caring Right At Home, a major supplier of home health care, many move to be closer to family (29%), reducing home expenses (26%) and because of changes in their health (17%).

It is not just “downsizing” but what I call “right sizing”, as people realize the large house with stairs and a lawn to maintain isn’t necessary after the kids have left. Because of modern medicine, we are living longer and tend to be more active – not just my grandparents sitting on the porch in a rocking chair. Why spend the time maintaining a home?

Regardless of location, the majority of seniors want long-term care in their home for as long as they are able, so watch for the continued growth of the home care agency. Since, in Ohio, licensing is not required, check out carefully the experience and customer satisfaction stats for any potential caregiver, or see us about making a family member that designated person. Live until you die!

PLANNING FOR CHRONIC ILLNESS

Sayings are repeated because they contain some real truth. Two that I often repeat to clients are: “Life is what you experience while you are planning other things” and, in contrast, “Failure to plan Is  planning to fail”. Both contain truth and apply when you or a spouse receive a diagnosis of a long term and perhaps fatal, chronic illness.

 

Aside from the personal sorrow and fear when the diagnosis comes, we need to be responsible for those in our families who will be involved in care-giving and care decisions. That is done with a thorough review of the health prognosis, evaluation of assets, projected care costs, and projected impact on the family. Elder law attorneys (like us) are used to dealing with these complicated questions and helping families find the right answers for them. Frequently, it may mean modification of a house for wheelchairs and access, changing the registration of title and accounts, moving to a single-floor residence, adding on a suite to a child’s home, preparing care agreements, setting up trusts for long-term care, investigating financial resources, including Medicaid and veterans benefits, identifying care-givers, and, most of all – making the best of the situation for all the loved ones who will be affected.

 

There are answers but usually not ones you can “do yourself”, because the issues are complicated. We look forward to talking with you in a no-cost initial conference that can lead to the best answers.

GIVE THE KIDS THE HOME? NOT A GOOD IDEA

Many seniors come to us for advice as they see their friends going into long-term custodial facilities and spending their life savings for care. They want to leave their estate to their children. Frequently, they have heard on the street that they should give their house to the kids now so it won’t count for Medicaid. WRONG! –generally.
In husband and wife situations, the marital home has protections that are lost if you give it to children. The structure of Medicaid is to protect a “community spouse” by not taking the home as long as the community spouse owns and lives there. In addition, the marital home is an investment that can be improved, using liquid assets that otherwise might be used for care of an institutionalized spouse and, with the step-up in basis on the death of the community spouse, results in a potentially greater transfer of value to the surviving children.
Another consideration is that transfer to the kids exposes the house to their creditors or their devious, unfaithful spouse in a divorce. You could end up on the street. There are several techniques that accomplish the goal of saving assets for children that don’t expose you to such risk.
It’s complicated. Come talk to us.