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.

A SURVIVING SPOUSES’ RIGHTS

In Ohio and in addition to other rights, a surviving spouse has a number of basic rights available to them in a probate estate. The purpose of these legislated rights is to attempt to assure surviving spouses are not impoverished or that they have resources for necessities on the death of their husband or wife. Our legal system has generally memorialized these rights in Ohio Revised Code Section 2106. The rights include but are not limited to the following which I have listed in no certain order. A spouse has a right to two automobiles of limited value that are not specifically listed in the Last Will and Testament. He or she has a right to live in their home (aka “the mansion house”) for up to a year if it is not transferred or bequeathed to them otherwise. They have the right to purchase property from the deceased spouse’s estate. He or she has a right to an “allowance for support.” This allowance depends on the money available in the estate and other factors. Additionally, the survivor receives preferential treatment on appointment as the fiduciary to their spouse’s estate. If the surviving spouse wishes to exercise any of their rights, they have 5 months after the appointment of an executor or administrator of an estate to do so. The decision to make is whether they would like to elect to take under the will or to take against the will (which means exercising the rights listed above). Depending on the estate and situation, it may behoove a widow or widower to elect against a will if they were not adequately provided for in the will. Now one reality to watch out for is a situation where the surviving spouse is completely cut out of an estate by the late spouse. Sometimes this is unintentional or intentional and almost always because the late spouse received bad counsel from whoever they held as advisors. Your advisor should be an attorney who can explain the positive and negative ramifications of an estate plan. There are many, many non-attorneys in Ohio doing a disservice to citizens by looking (and sounding) sophisticated regarding estate planning but lacking the professional competence to advise on such heavy matters.

EXPLORING PRE NEED FUNERAL PLANNING

 

Pre-Need planning is a wonderful gift to those you love. As a rule of thumb, a pre-need funeral contract refers to the purchase of funeral goods and services before a person passes away. Why would someone want to pre-plan?

The pre-arrangement allows the person to speak directly to the funeral director about his or her own funeral wishes and preferences. By having pre-planning the service, the individual is providing significant relief to surviving family members from having to make decisions during a time of tumult and grieving in addition to relieving the survivors from a financial burden. Additionally, there is a Medicaid planning benefit to planning as well. Persons who currently qualify for Medicaid assistance or who anticipate qualifying may pre-pay their funerals without impacting their Medicaid eligibility. As this is an exempt purchase. The drawback to pre-planning is that the person is tying up the money.

Now there are really two types of pre-need contract: a guaranteed price contract and a non-guaranteed. In a guaranteed price contract the funeral home guarantees the funeral goods and services the planning person selects at the amount of money stated in the agreement. Which means there will be no need for additional payment later.selected for the amount of money stated in the contract. This means that you or your estate will not be required to pay any additional cost for the guaranteed items. The “non guaranteed contract” treats the amount paid for planning as a deposit against the final costs which is determined at the time of the actual funeral services provided.

If the contract does not guarantee the prices charged, the price of the funeral will be determined at the time the services and merchandise are provided. Any amount you pre-pay will be considered as a deposit to be applied toward the purchase price.

Some good questions to ask (in addition to your wishes) during your pre-planning session are:

* Where will the pre-need funds be deposited until they are needed?
* Will I receive verification from the financial institution that the prepaid funds have been deposited in the trust account?
* If the funds are used to purchase an insurance policy, will I receive verification that the policy has been purchased?
* What is covered by the price guarantee?
* Is the pre-need contract irrevocable or revocable?
* If the contract is revocable, how can I cancel the contract?

I have had to handle funeral arrangements for family, friends and client and can tell you. It is a marvelous relief to know a plan was already in place for our loved one.E

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.

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.

LAWYERS CAN COOK – SO CAN YOU

On this 4th of July, we could spend time at family gatherings telling lawyer jokes – there are lots to go around and everyone enjoys them – except lawyers. There are better things to talk about, like Cleveland – the Cavaliers, the Indians, etc.

 

 

I, however, will be cooking over the grill, the honored tradition in our family where everyone is invited and “Tim can throw something on the grill.” I don’t mind – I’ve always loved outdoor cooking (and indoor in the winter).

 

 

Here is an easy one I came up with to replace burgers and dogs: Pork Loin. Just get a pork loin, unwrap it and make a wrapper of aluminum foil. Then open 2 cans of frozen apple juice concentrate – let it melt so it is like syrup. Make some thin slices in the edge of the loin all around, spread the concentrate on the loin, and wrap again. I like to leave it setting out on the counter for several hours on a cookie sheet to come to room temperature before I cook. Then remove the foil and put the loin put on a medium grill, turning every 15 minutes and sprinkle with salt/pepper and drizzle the apple juice concentrate on the loin until internal temperature with your meat thermometer shows the pork is done. Let it sit on the platter for 30 minutes and slice. You will be a hero.

 

 

Never got anything for free from an attorney? You just did.

INSIDE JOB

Today, we mark the onset of a New Year. While we all get used to writing or typing 2015 and not 2014, this day presents us a fresh marker to number the days in our lives. We are stewards of our lessons going forward. One lesson I take from 2014, and all the years prior, is that failure is an inside job. In an era where no one takes personal responsibility for their actions, I have concluded that I am the best person to sell Me a bad idea. When a friend convinced me to play dodgeball in front of one of our large garage windows as a junior higher, I said, “Self, that is a great idea! You will have a lot of fun. Now where’s the ball?” You get the picture, and so you have been your best salesperson for many of those significant decisions in life.

This past year our law firm has helped bridge poor planning by “do-it-yourselfers” and peace for their families. In those instances, the planners may have received their bad planning ideas from the internet, a co-worker, a less than persnickety uncle, or a bank teller. However, the individual is the one who ultimately approved and took confidence in their bad idea.

In the spirit of a fresh start, let’s plan with a purpose and be ever leery of those bad ideas. If you need solid, well-constructed estate planning, contact our office. I have heard it said that “Ninety percent of all those who fail are not actually defeated. They simply quit.” You see, it is an inside job. Let 2015 be a year where you have been intentional in meeting goals for your marriage, your children, grandchildren, business, church, synagogue or work. Have a great year!     broken window

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.

LATE-LIFE PLAN

One thing you quickly realize in the elder law planning area is how complex the situations are and how many variables affect the decisions of our elder population. One thing I know: placing your head in the sand is not a good option. That option just places greater stress on other loved ones who then, by default, must make decisions for you.

I regularly correspond with other elder law attorneys and caregivers – always looking for better ideas. One article Dr. Caroline Dott recently submitted to ElderCareMatters, a cross-disciplinary group I belong to, had some real value. She recommended that we all need a “late-life plan” and need to discuss it with our family while we still have our mental faculties so we can enjoy the best possible late life stage. This is far better than defaulting in a crisis to the oldest daughter or son, who now, in the middle of raising his or her family, must make decisions for you.

Caroline recommended having discussion with your parents now. Begin by fantasizing what the most comfortable and fulfilling last stage of life would be like, and then ask for some details:
• Where and/or with whom will you live?
• What pleasurable, exciting activities will you participate in?
• Where and with whom will you travel?
• What experiences will you have to avoid any regrets at life’s end?
• How will you fund your plans for the rest of your life?
• When and how will you complete all legal transactions?
• Which family members/friends/experts will be responsible for managing your finances, medical/psychiatric, legal issues and funeral arrangements when you no longer can?
• After making the plan, notify all participating parties, providing them with copies of documents related to their responsibilities.

Well-made plans pay huge dividends to those that make them. Do it today.