Massachusetts Estate Planning & Asset Protection Blog

Understanding Long Term Care Planning

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Fri, Jan 19, 2018

Facing the enormity of long term care, whether it is the financial, healthcare, emotional or psychological issues, it is so overwhelming. 

It's needs a team effort!  With the help of family, friends and our team here at Dennis Sullivan and Associates you can make the enormity of long term care manageable 


What exactly is "Long Term Care Planning" ? 

Here's one way to look at long term care planning: 

In today’s world, the question is no longer only, “What happens when I die?, but now we need to plan for “What happens if I live?” An estate plan covers the scenario of, What happens when I die.  But long term care covers a large variety of other factors and scenarios that sometime families forget to consider such as what happens if I live but am not healthy and have increased health-care costs and need to rely on others for assistance, either temporarily or on a permanent basis. The estate plan does not address this need. An estate plan can help you answer the first question, but a long-term care plan can help you answer both the first and second questions. Let’s put it another way. An estate plan insures that if you have assets when you die they will be passed in the manner you wish. The key word is “if.” The plan will not, however, guarantee that there will be anything left at that time to pass. Your assets could be mostly or entirely wiped out by a lengthy illness, hospital, and/or nursing home stay, leaving your spouse and other heirs with nothing.

 long Term Care and Medicaid:

I had a conversation last week with a married couple for whom we are preparing a Medicaid application. John is in a nursing home, and Mary is healthy and living at home. I explained to them that Mary can keep half of their countable assets, in their case $75,000, but that they must spend down to below that dollar amount by the last day of the month directly preceding the month we want to qualify John for Medicaid. I have had this conversation numerous times with clients in John and Mary’s situation, and know all too well that this simple instruction is not always followed. The largest part of most spend downs typically goes to the nursing home. But, as most people do, myself included, we wait until we get a bill before we pay it. If I owe you money, I’m not going to chase after you for a bill. Whenever you get around to it and invoice me, then I’ll pay it. The longer the money stays in my bank account, the happier I am. However, this can get you into big trouble and cost you tens of thousands of dollars if you wait for the nursing home bill. If we want John to be eligible for Medicaid next month and we know that he owes the nursing home $20,000 for the past two months of care, but the nursing home hasn’t yet presented Mary with a bill, it does not matter that Mary and John legitimately owe the facility the money. If that $20,000 is still sitting in their bank account next month, causing their account balance to exceed $75,000, John cannot qualify for Medicaid. Even worse than that, he can’t even qualify for next month. He has to wait until the following month, which means they will owe the facility another $10,000, leaving Mary with $65,000 to live on.

So Much to Discuss

For more information on Long Term Care Planning we encourage you attend one of our free educational workshops, call 800-964-4295 and register to learn more about what you can do to enhance the security of your spouse, home, life savings and legacy. January sessions are filling up fast call or register on line to reserve your seat today.  

At the Estate Planning & Asset Protection Law Center, we help people and their families protect their home, spouse, life-savings, and legacy for their loved ones.  We provide clients with a unique educational and counseling so they understand where opportunities exist to eliminate problems now as they implement plans for a protected future. 

Click Here to Register For Our Trust, Estate & Asset  Protection Workshop

Tags: Retirement, Estate Planning, Baby Boomers, Elder Law, Attorney, GST tax, Massacusetts Estate Tax, Financial Planning, taxes, coverage, tax liability, tax exemption, Tax Savings, tax deductions, tax reform, New estate tax law, IRS, federal, Estate Planning Tip, Massachusetts, senior, Estate Planning Recommendations, Dennis Sullivan, tax, Capital Gains Tax, new regulations, New Tax Bill, Tax Bill, 2018 Tax Bill

New Tax Bill: What you need to know

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Fri, Jan 05, 2018

How does the new tax bill affect you and your family now and in the future?

The new tax bill has officially been passed by Congress and signed by President Trump, what does this mean for us?  The answer to this depends on many variables discussed here. 


First of all, these changes don’t apply until you file your 2018 taxes, meaning that you won’t have to worry about the new law when filing your 2017 income tax returns this spring.  That being said, still we will be experiencing the greatest overhaul of the tax laws in more than 30 years.  The last major changes having been made under President Reagan in 1986. 

One change you can expect to see is that both corporate tax rates and personal income tax rates will drop.  There are also other changes which limit or eliminate personal deductions.   The changes that affect corporate tax rates are permanent, and the changes that affect individual tax rates and deductions are not.

Also in the new tax bill you will find a “sunset” provision, meaning that the new law – as it applies to individuals – will expire on December 31, 2025.   That is, unless Congress agrees to extend the law.  That, of course, will depend on the political and economic climate 8 years from now, including whether the economy responds the way Republicans say it will

       Now let’s take a look at the changes that are likely to affect the average senior.  Good news, the tax rates have been lowered a bit.  There are still 7 tax brackets but the rates have changed with the top rate lowered from 39.6% to 37% and the threshold at which each rate is reached has been altered. (The corporate rate reduction is much greater, from 37% to 21%).

       Some of the most significant changes relate to deductions.  The standard deduction has been doubled to $12,000 for a single person and $24,000 for married couples but personal exemptions have been eliminated.  The deduction for state and local taxes will be capped at $10,000, something that could hurt many Massachusetts residents and especially homeowners because we have high real estate and state income taxes.  

So Much to Discuss:

For the first time in decades major overhauls to the tax system are happening! This is an enormous change that can affect your estate planning and asset protection as well. Be sure to stay tuned as we will discuss more about this new tax bill in our next blog post!    

For more information we encourage you to attend one of our free educational workshops, call 800-964-4295 and register to learn more about what you can do to enhance the security of your spouse, home, life savings and legacy. January sessions are filling up fast call or register on line to reserve your seat today.  

At the Estate Planning & Asset Protection Law Center, we help people and their families protect their home, spouse, life-savings, and legacy for their loved ones.  We provide clients with a unique educational and counseling so they understand where opportunities exist to eliminate problems now as they implement plans for a protected future. 

Click Here to Register For Our Trust, Estate & Asset  Protection Workshop

Tags: Retirement, Estate Planning, Baby Boomers, Elder Law, Attorney, GST tax, Massacusetts Estate Tax, Financial Planning, taxes, coverage, tax liability, tax exemption, Tax Savings, tax deductions, tax reform, New estate tax law, IRS, federal, Estate Planning Tip, Massachusetts, senior, Estate Planning Recommendations, Dennis Sullivan, tax, Capital Gains Tax, new regulations, New Tax Bill, Tax Bill, 2018 Tax Bill

7 Major Errors In Estate Planning

Posted by Wellesley Estate Planning Attorney, Dennis B. Sullivan, Esq., CPA, LLM on Wed, May 16, 2012

As estate planning and asset protection professional we often times help people and their family by reviewing existing planning.   As discussed in a recent Forbes article, the following is a list of major estate omissions and poor choices we see on a consistent basis.  Estate Planning, Asset Protection, Tax Changes, Estate Tax, Gift TaxIt is crucial to have your planning reviewed and updated consistently.  As a result of changes in the law, in health and in personal circumstance an old estate plan may not be working to accomplish your goals.  To learn more about how the Estate Planning & Asset Protection Law Center of Dennis Sullivan & Associates can help you and your family visit or call (800) 964-4295 (24/7). 

1. Not having a plan

In a sense, everyone does have an estate plan; state law makes this point a certainty.  It simply may not be the plan that you had in mind, or that your family would have preferred.  Not having a will means that at your death the distribution of your assets will be dictated by the inheritance laws of the state where you were domiciled when you died.  These “intestacy laws” vary from state to state but, typically, leave percentages of your assets to various family members.  There is always a remote chance that these laws will accomplish what you would have intended – but not likely. It is highly improbable that, by chance, your dispositive intentions as to who gets what, when and in what form will be fulfilled.  This is true even if your estate is below the tax threshold.  Your will applies to the disposition of your “probate assets” – those assets NOT otherwise following a beneficiary designation or the titling of the asset. Non-probate assets will pass by operation of law or contract. For example, whoever the beneficiary designation may have been when you originally began your 401(k) or IRA at the start of your work life will override either your will or the laws of intestacy.  Even a simple plan that is well thought out and results from the identification of your personal objectives will be much more successful than nothing at all.

2. Online or DIY rather than professionals

There has been a noticeable uptick in the number of people who will look to the Internet to prepare their own wills and trusts. There are dozens upon dozens of websites that will profess to offer you just the right discounted estate planning documents.  Even wealthy clients who stand to benefit the most from expert planning advice have been impacted. Unfortunately, relying on web-based, do it yourself solutions is a recipe for disaster.  Estate planning documents should represent the culmination of a well thought out financial and estate plan. An amalgam of stand-alone documents does not a plan make.  Furthermore, those pesky nuanced requirements (i.e. the “formalities”) for a validly written and executed document will vary from state to state.  Internet sites can provide you with documents but no actual advice that fits you in the context of your specific financial and personal life.  What happens when the laws change? Does the document create an unnecessary tax if the state and federal tax laws diverge substantially?  Also, use an experienced estate attorney.  All wills are perfect documents while they are in your desk drawer.  Only when examined post-mortem are the inadequacies revealed.

3. Failure to Review Beneficiary Designations and Titling of Assets

One of the most basic and most overlooked items on every estate-planning checklist is the review of beneficiary designations and the proper titling of accounts. Unwittingly, many people will often let beneficiary designations and asset titling determine their estate plans for them, contrary to their intentions. Why? Regardless of what your well developed wills and trusts say, your beneficiary designations and the title of your assets will control the ultimate distribution of those assets. Most investment accounts allow for the designation of a beneficiary (IRAs, 401(k)s, company plans, etc.).  More recently, many states have enacted legislation to convert even otherwise ordinary brokerage accounts into accounts with beneficiary designations via Payable/Transfer Upon Death Registrations. All of these beneficiary designations absolutely control who gets the asset at your death.  The titling of assets is a property law concept with estate implications. An account that is held jointly with right of survivorship will pass automatically to the survivor of the joint owners.  Why does this matter?  Assets can flow to the wrong people due to old, wrong and/or out-of-date designations, often with unintended estate and income tax implications.

4. Failure to Consider the Estate and Gift Tax Consequences of Life Insurance

Life insurance proceeds are included in the estate when owned by the insured at death. However, the insured may choose to transfer all incidence of ownership during his/her lifetime thereby avoiding any potential estate tax inclusion. Notwithstanding this accessible planning fix (usually via trust), relinquishing ownership and control is not necessarily an automatic decision. In some instances, large sums of available, tax-advantaged and asset-protected cash has accumulated in permanent life insurance policies (i.e. whole life).  Accordingly, the decision as to how an insurance policy should be owned and, as importantly, controlled, can be complex and is highly individualized. In the right fact patterns, especially when tax is not the only important consideration, credible arguments can be made for both trust ownership and direct ownership. As in most estate planning, it is very much dependent on individual circumstances: family dynamics, net worth, financial / liquidity position, personal preferences and, even, your philosophy on the transfer of assets to future generations.

5. Maximizing annual gifts

Gifting is, probably, the oldest and best way to minimize future estate taxes. The entire universe of exemptions and deductions available for the reduction of estate taxes consist of:  the lifetime exemption ($5.12 million in 2012), the marital deduction (for gifts to citizen spouses during life or at death), the gift and estate tax charitable deduction, annual exclusion gifts ($13,000 in 2012) and direct transfers (not to be treated as gifts) for education (tuition) and medical care (both theoretically unlimited). For the wealthy, maximizing all of these is smart planning. Making annual exclusion gifts every year to as many family members (this includes anyone close to you) as is financially prudent (given your financial situation) is good planning. Over the long run, you can transfer significant sums of money out of your estate along with any appreciation, thereby reducing the tax. Even better planning would be to use your annual exclusion gifts, strategically,  so that each annual gift can be leveraged into larger sums being transferred out of your estate. Strategies such as sales/gifts to defective grantor trusts, the use of LLCs/FLPs in the case of hard to value assets and life insurance are just a few ways to leverage the annual exclusion gifts. In the case of gifting, leverage is a very good thing and strategies that allow you to leverage this scarce resource – tax-free gifts – are crucial to successful estate planning.

6. Failure to Take Advantage of the Estate Tax Exemption in 2012

As every estate and financial planning practitioner will tell you (and probably already has told you), making lifetime gifts is a simple and effective estate tax minimization strategy.  Simply giving away assets at no gift tax cost will allow both the corpus and its appreciation to escape the Federal estate tax on the passing of the donor.  Using the exemption equivalent amount during your life is better than leaving it for use at death.  The urgency is to act now to take advantage of the current estate tax regime that it is set to expire at the end of 2012.  Above and beyond the annual exclusion gift limit of $13,000, the federal applicable exemption amount for transfers during life (gifts) and death (estates) has increased (by indexing) to $5,120,000 per person for 2012 — by far the highest it has ever been since the establishment of the estate tax. Wealthy individuals who have both the means and desire to do so, should plan on making these gifts during 2012.

7. Leaving assets outright to Adult Children

In recent years, there has been a growing opinion among advisors for wealthy families that assets should remain in trust, even for adult children, for as long as possible for the asset protection and other benefits that a trust can offer. For a wealthy couple with adult children, the question may no longer be a one of legal capacity or maturity (although those issues may still remain). The bigger questions may, more accurately, become: who should really benefit from the fruits of my labor and how do I protect those assets from creditors, potential creditors and ex-spouses.  Depending on your perspective, dictating from the grave may or may not be a pejorative expression. For as long as trusts have been in existence (800+ years), the idea of controlling assets for as long as allowed with a set of instructions has been considered acceptable and often sought after planning.  In fact, centuries ago, keeping assets in trust forever was, more likely than not, the goal; hence the genesis of the “rule against perpetuities.” This rule was law in all 50 states to prevent perpetual or “dynasty” trusts. Over the last several years, many states have been modifying this rule to allow for longer trusts or have outright abolished the rule. Whether or not to leave assets in trust for adult children depends on many factors; not the least of which is personal preference. However, in our litigious society of high divorce rates, leaving some assets in trust with fairly liberal access is certainly worth consideration.

For more information on how you can avoid major errors in your estate planning register to attend an educational workshop hosted by our team of estate planning professionals by going to or by calling (800) 964-4295 (24/7).  You can also access several free guides and reports on our website by clicking HERE

We look forward to helping you and your family.


Tags: asset protection, Estate Planning, Estate Planning, GST tax, gift tax, estate tax, estate tax savings, Massacusetts Estate Tax, 401(k), Massachusetts estate tax, Estate Planning Tip, estate, gifts

Obama's Estate Tax Budget Proposals

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Tue, Mar 22, 2011


We all should realize that the federal estate tax is in a state of flux. The current rules, with the generous $5 million individual exemption ($10 million for a couple), expire at the end of 2012. Last month, the Treasury Department released the “General Explanations of the Administration's Fiscal Year 2012 Revenue Proposals,” also known as the “Greenbook.” The Greenbook reveals that the Obama Administration intends to make some big estate tax changes.

  • Return the Gift, Estate, and Generation-Skipping Transfer (GST) taxes to 2009 levels. The Greenbook proposes that in 2013 the exemptions return to $3.5 million for the estate tax, $1 million for the gift tax, and slightly over $1 million (reflecting inflation adjustments since 1999) for the generation skipping transfer (“GST”) tax.
  • Make portability permanent. Portability is the ability of the first spouse’s estate exemptions to be passed on to the surviving spouse, essentially doubling the estate exemptions for couples while cutting down on the stress of so many trusts.
  • Limitations on the use of valuation discounts. Although the IRS has long had defenses in place against attempts to reduce the value of the taxable portion of an estate, Chapter 14 of the tax code, the effectiveness of these defenses have been challenged in a number of ways and part of the proposal is to strengthen Chapter 14 by significantly hampering any effort to receive a valuation discount.
  • Impose a ten-year minimum term on GRATs. Grantor retained annuity trusts (“GRATs”) have become extremely popular estate planning vehicles over the past several years.  Among other reasons, they are relatively low cost to implement, are fairly low risk, and can transfer significant amounts of wealth to lower generations with virtually no estate or gift tax, often without using any of the transferor’s exemption. One requirement for a successful GRAT, however, is that the grantor must survive the term, otherwise the trust “fails.” To minimize risk, estate lawyers usually use a series of short-term (e.g., three-year) GRATs in their planning. The proposal is to require a term of no less than 10 years. This proposal would apply to GRATs created after the date of enactment, and has been made several times in the past.
  • Limiting the capacity of Dynasty Trusts. Under current law in many states, a Dynasty Trust can be established to transfer wealth across generations and exist for that purpose “in perpetuity.” The Obama proposal would provide that, on the 90th anniversary of the creation of a trust, the Generation-Skipping Tax (GST) exclusion allotted to the trust would terminate. This proposal would apply to trusts created after enactment, and to the portion of a pre-existing trust attributable to additions made after the date.


Many of these proposals have been made before, and most arelikely to face stiff opposition.

In addition, Massachusetts will assess a state tax on estates over $1 million. Without proper planning a married couple will have only $1 million between them.  See a lawer to be sure that you and your spouse get the $2 million exemption available to you.

Also, Massachusetts clients and taxpayers need to watch out for estate plans created based on maximum federal applicable exclusion planning, common for many estate plans prior to 2003. Now with the $5 million federal exempt amount, there could be a COMPLETELY AVOIDABLE Massachusetts estate tax triggered at the first death. The cost to your spouse and family could be as much as $400,000 in unnecessary estate taxes.

The point of all of this is that the “death tax” is not dead. The current law, with its generous exemptions, could be the calm before the storm. A wise planner would move sooner rather than later to preserve estate assets for future generations.

You can learn more about comprehensive estate planning by attending one of our Trust, Estate & Asset Protection Workshops and also by downloading our Unique Self-Guided 19-Point Trust, Estate & Asset Protection Legal Guide on our website.  Once you become a client, we have a Lifetime Protection Program to ensure that your planning stays up to date with the changes in law, fincial, health and family situations.


Tags: Estate Planning, Estate Planning, GST tax, gift tax, estate tax, Massacusetts Estate Tax, massachusetts estate planning strategies, Massachusetts estate tax, tax exemption, New estate tax law, GRATs, IRS, gifts

Dynasty Trusts Under Fire

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Tue, Mar 15, 2011

As budget debates continue to escalate, yet another estate planning tool has come under fire, reports The Wall Street Journal. If you’re interested in a “Dynasty Trust” you may want to act sooner rather than later.

The main objective of a Dynasty Trust is to continue for as long as possible, benefiting several succeeding generations. Usually, beneficiaries are allowed access to income only, so the trust’s principal assets remain intact to provide an income stream for future generations. Dynasty trusts have become increasingly popular since the 1986 tax overhaul and the current version of the “generation-skipping tax.” (GST). The GST imposes a levy that on transfer that skip one generation – such as those from grandparent to grandchild while the grandchild’s parent is still alive. You can avoid the GST, however, if your transfer skips more than one generation.

The Journal uses an example to illustrate:

Robert, a widower, has a net worth of $15 million and his heirs include children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If he leaves everything to his children and they in turn leave everything to theirs and so on, there could be an estate tax toll with each generation.

Robert would like to put his entire estate into a trust and skip layers of tax. But if he does, the generation-skipping tax kicks in and replaces the lost taxes—except for an exempted amount, which is currently $5 million per individual or $10 million per married couple. That $5 million can be pumped up using discounts, life insurance and other leveraging techniques.

Dynasty trusts push that generation-skipping tax exemption to the max, putting the exempted amount beyond the reach of estate taxes for the life of the trust. That, in turn, means the heirs don't have to "spend" their own exemptions on those assets.

Dynasty trusts are now allowed in 23 states and the District of Columbia. (You don’t have to live in a state to establish a trust there.)

When the Journal reports that Dynasty Trusts are under attack, they mean that the President’s budget proposal would remove the federal tax exemption after 90 years. So the trust can continue indefinitely, but the tax exemption cannot.

The Journal also suggests that the measure is unlikely to pass this year, but taxpayers should know that the idea is in play. As proposed, the change would apply to new trusts or additions of money to existing ones, but not to those already funded.

Bottom line: if you are considering setting up a Dynasty Trust, now is the time. You can take advantage of the current generous terms of the estate and gift tax – a $5 million individual exemption and top 35% rate, and lock in family wealth that may continue in perpetuity for your heirs.

For more information, check out our Estate Planning Strategies page, or attend a free Trust, Estate and Asset Protection Workshop.

Tags: Estate Planning, GST tax, estate tax savings, massachusetts estate planning strategies, applicable exclusion, Metro West Estate Plan

2011 Tax Law Offers Unique Gifting Opportunity

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Thu, Feb 10, 2011

Lifetime gifting has always been an important aspect of comprehensive estate planning. As the old saying goes, “If you’re giving while you’re living, then you’re knowing where it’s going.” But the new tax legislation passed in December makes gifting even more attractive for wealthy families.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “The $5 Million Tax Break,” points out why lifetime gifting is suddenly so attractive under the new laws. It’s a good article, worth reading, but here are the high points, in a nut-shell:

For the next two years, the gift-tax exemption jumps to $5 million from $1 million for individuals, and to $10 million (up from $2 million) for couples. What’s more, the tax rate on gifts above those amounts fell to 35 percent, from a scheduled 55 percent.

The gift tax has long been a feature of the tax law, and the gift tax exemption in recent years has remained lower than the estate tax exemption to discourage the wealthy from draining their estates through gifts in order to avoid estate taxes. This new gift tax break, however, may be an important tax planning strategy to consider now, especially for family business owners who want to transfer business interests to the next generation.

Why? If you make your gifts now – or within the next two years – you can take advantage of what could be a short-lived tax break, locking in potentially significant tax savings for your heirs. Savings large enough that they could mean the difference between a business continuation or a business failure. Who knows what Congress will do after 2012? While many hope lawmakers will extend the current regime beyond 2012, other events – such as a debt crisis – could render these breaks temporary. For more information on Gifts and the Massachusetts estate tax,check out the Gifting Strategies in Estate Planning on our website.

You can learn more about transfer taxes, including estate taxes, gift taxes and the generation-skipping transfer tax at the Tax Planning Strategies section on our website. 

Tags: 2011, GST tax, gift tax, estate tax savings, massachusetts estate planning strategies, GRATs, gifts

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