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

What will 2017 bring to Seniors and Persons with Disabilities? - Part II

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Tue, Jan 24, 2017

What will 2017 bring to Seniors and Persons with Disabilities? - Part II

In last week's blog 'What will 2017 Bring to Seniors and Persons with Disabilities? - Part I' we discussed some of the key issues to watch out for in 2017 including Medicare and Medicaid reform. In Part II of the blog we continue our review of potential impacts on legislation that affects seniors and persons with disabilities.

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Affordable Care Act

Republicans are already moving to repeal and replace Obamacare. The question is: How much will be repealed? There are several programs included in the ACA, not related to traditional health insurance, that are important to elder law attorneys and their clients. For example, Medicaid expansion, a kind of Medicaid reform, is part of the ACA.

The ACA also includes programs that work toward ending the institutional bias in Medicaid. One is Community First Choice, a state plan that provides home- and community-based services. Currently it has an extremely low-income threshold so it’s a limited population, but it’s a start.

Another is Money Follows the Person, which pays for transition services. For example, it could provide extra funds to help someone leave a nursing home, by paying for a housing coordinator to find an apartment, a roommate, buy basic furniture and so on.

We are moving toward home- and community-based service, which many people favor. How will that interact with Medicaid reforms? Because they are optional, some fear that with per capita caps, these services will be among the first to go. There may be more opportunities to expand these services through block grants because they allow more flexibility in what is offered. Along this line, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has introduced a bill called the Disability Integration Act, which would make home- and community-based services a civil right.

Other Medicaid-Related Issues to Watch

Limiting home equity: This proposal, H.R. 1361, would take away the state option to expand the cap for single individual home owners. It would not impact people who have a community spouse living in the home or if you have a disabled child or a dependent under 21. 

Medical liability reform: This could impact whether individuals get adequate access to personal injury settlements and funds that can be put into a special needs trust.

Long-Term Care Reform

There has been a lot of discussion on Capitol Hill about picking up the pieces on long-term care. After a decade, the market has completely collapsed. John Hancock just withdrew, and Genworth was bought out by a Chinese private equity firm. Republicans and Democrats agree on the problem, but there doesn’t seem to be common ground yet on a solution. The Senate Aging Committee is starting the process, which is a positive step. There are calls for catastrophic coverage, at least on the back end, and probably some sort of front-end coverage for two or three years. There may be some long-term care reform as part of Medicaid reform.

VA Benefit Rules

The new rules have been delayed again until at least April, 2017. Fixing the VA is a Trump priority. An important piece to what will happen with the VA is who Trump names to head the VA and Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA). 

Nursing home binding arbitration rules

Nursing homes must comply with binding arbitration rules to have access to Medicare or Medicaid funds. NAELA has been working with others to push CMS to ban pre-dispute binding arbitration. The for-profit nursing home industry association is fighting it and recently won a preliminary injunction in a Mississippi district court (American Health Care Association et al v. Burwell). We do not yet know if the Trump Administration will appeal this ruling and continue with banning binding arbitration for nursing home contracts. 

In Kindred Nursing Centers Limited Partnership v. Clark in Kentucky, the issue is whether federal arbitration acts overrule the state’s arbitration acts. The state of Kentucky has a law that says in order to waive the principal’s constitutional right to a jury trial, the agent must be given that specific authority within the power of attorney. Whether this is overturned is likely to hinge on President Trump’s pick to fill Justice Scalia’s vacancy on the Supreme Court.

 Conclusion

There are a number of issues that will be addressed in 2017 that can have significant impact on seniors and their loved ones, Veterans, and persons with disabilities. If you have questions or would like to discuss any of the issues raised here, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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

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.

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

 

Tags: disabled, seniors, Affordable Health Care Act, Veteran, VA benefits, VA, Medicaid, Nursing Home, Estate Planning, Elder Law, elder care, New estate tax law, new regulations, trusts, Nursing Home Costs, social security

What will 2017 bring to Seniors and Persons with Disabilities? - Part I

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Thu, Jan 19, 2017

What will 2017 bring to Seniors and Persons with Disabilities? - Part I

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Donald Trump’s election and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress surprised much of the nation. With control of legislative and executive branches of government, the expectation is Republicans will finally be able to push through long-awaited legislation, as well as follow through on promises made by candidate Trump. And they are expected to move quickly.

We will summarize some key issues to watch out for in 2017 that affect seniors and persons with disabilities and continue to provide updates throughout the year.

What the Election Outcome Means in Congress

The House has remained in Republican control—about 45% Democrat and 55% Republican. The majority rules, so while the Democrats may have loud opposition, they don’t have a lot of power. Currently, Republicans are mostly united, but those in the Freedom Caucus (Tea Party Republicans) are deciding how they will interact with the Republican establishment. If they split, votes may be needed from Democrats to pass legislation.

The Senate is 48 Democrats and 52 Republicans. 60 votes are needed to prevent a filibuster (where senators can talk for hours and delay votes). But with budget reconciliation, only a simple majority (51) is needed to pass legislation in the Senate. Because they are all budget-related programs, the Republicans will try to reform Medicaid, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) through budget reconciliation. Individual Republican senators will have a lot of power, as some may insist on additions or deletions to secure their vote. If the Republicans do not stick together for the majority, votes may be needed from Democrats. (Note: Budget reconciliation was used to pass the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 and OBRA 93, which enacted big cuts that changed elder law—the lengthening of the transfer penalty, the change in the time of when that penalty applies, the move from trust.)

One thing to watch is who is going to run Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Social Security Administration, especially considering how much is related to Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The people now in charge of staffing these agencies are conservative. For example, the person in charge of staffing the political positions at the Social Security Administration has called for privatizing Social Security in the past. Donald Trump has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to change Medicare and Social Security, but that may be changing. (See below.)

Tax Policy

Tax changes are expected as part of the budget reconciliation process. We are not sure yet if 2017 will bring major tax reform or just tax cuts, but tax rates are expected to decrease for both individuals and businesses. Candidate Trump called for elder care and child care tax deductions and/or credits. He has also stated his plan to eliminate the federal estate tax, then charge capital gains tax on everything over $10 million, with exemptions for family farms and small businesses.

We may also see some changes to the ABLE Act (Achieving a Better Life Experience), which passed in December 2014 and amended Section 529 Plans. Currently, ABLE allows people with disabilities developed before the age of 26 and their families to set up tax-exempt savings accounts, which can be used to cover qualified disability expenses such as, but not limited to, education, housing and transportation. Revisions in 2017 may raise the age to 46, allow those working to put in more money, and allow rollovers of these accounts. 

Medicare Reform

President-elect Trump started by saying he was going to protect Medicare and Social Security. After meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, he said he will modernize Medicare. Reince Priebus, incoming chief of staff, recently insisted that Mr. Trump won’t meddle with Medicare or Social Security. Instead, he has said he will focus on 1) improving the economy, which will reduce the debt and ease entitlement concerns and 2) save Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security without cuts while eliminating fraud, waste and abuse. 

But he is already encountering resistance from Republicans, who for years have claimed that a major overhaul to Medicare and other entitlements are needed to ensure they don’t go bankrupt; that entitlement reform is critical to reducing debt; and the longer they wait, the harder it becomes to solve the problems. Obama administration officials warned just last year that a central Medicare trust fund is projected to run out of money by 2028.

Yet Republicans are also encouraged by what some of the President-Elect’s Cabinet picks could mean for future entitlement reform. Representative Tom Price (R-GA), who replaced Paul Ryan as Budget chairman and sought to overhaul entitlement programs, is Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary. Representative Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), a fiscal hawk and Freedom Caucus co-founder, will lead his White House budget office.

So, we will have to wait and see if President-elect Trump, his Cabinet members and leading Republicans will find a way to agree. Some reforming of Medicare may be part of the 2017 budget reconciliation, but with ObamaCare repeal and replace, tax reform and infrastructure as the immediate priorities, solving the decades-long problem of deficits in Medicare and Social Security will likely have to wait until after 2017.

In the meantime, we are seeing a tilt toward Medicare Advantage plans. These managed care plans (offered through HMOs) often have lower costs and provide benefits not covered by traditional Medicare and Medicare Supplement Plans, such as health club memberships and preventative educational programs for those with diabetes and other chronic diseases. 

A long-term goal for Medicare, which has been around since its founding in 1964, is premium support. Basically, the consumer would choose a plan from those offered through an exchange. The government would provide subsidies to companies, they would lower the premiums and then people would choose their plans. It’s not likely that this will replace Medicare as we know it, but it is an idea being discussed.

Medicaid Reform

President-elect Trump has called for block granting Medicaid. House Speaker Paul Ryan has called for it, too, and Republicans are looking at whether they can reform Medicaid through budget reconciliation.

Those who want to reform Medicaid are focusing on the FMAP, the federal percentage match that states receive through federal funding. This is based on per capita income of the state. For example, a rich state like New Jersey is a 1:1 ratio, while a poor state like Mississippi is about a 3:1 ratio. This means for every one dollar that Mississippi spends on Medicaid, they will receive three free extra dollars from the federal government. This can impact states’ budget decisions. For example, if the governor of Mississippi needs to cut costs, he will more likely cut education or infrastructure by one dollar, rather than cut Medicaid spending by one dollar and lose the three free extra dollars.

The idea of block grants has been around for about 30 years. They are attractive because there are fewer federal rules to comply with and the states can use the money however they wish. But block grants shift more costs onto the states, and governors tend to oppose that.

Another idea floating around is a per capita cap, which would give the states a fixed dollar amount per individual, based on Medicaid standard lines (the blind, aged, and disabled children and adults). It was first proposed by President Clinton, who also wanted block grants. A per capita cap may force the states to control Medicaid costs over time, but there is also a demographic shift to consider—the medical needs and costs for an 85-year-old are much greater than for a 65-year-old. Nursing homes and aging disability provider groups have a huge stake in this and would likely oppose it, as would some governors.

The cost changes may not be felt right away, but they will be noticeable ten years from now and that’s what Congress must plan for. There may be increased waiver flexibility for the states and provider taxes to offset states’ losses. We may also see reforms to make it easier to manage care.

We will be following changes in legislation very closely and will keep you informed as to how these changes affect seniors and persons with disabilities. Check back next week for Part 2 of this blog where we will discuss more anticipated changes in the law including the Affordable Care Act and VA Benefit Rules!

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

To learn more about elder care and how changes in the law may affect 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.

Nursing home care is more than $180,000 per year! Attend this FREE educational seminar to learn:

  • How to protect your home and assets from the costs of long-term care
  • How to stay out of the nursing home and access in-home care
  • How to make sure your spouse is not left financially ruined if you need nursing home care
  • How to access Veterans benefits to pay for long-term care

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

 

Tags: Medicare, Medicaid, seniors, disabled, Elder Law, Affordable Health Care Act, social security, trusts, Estate Planning, New estate tax law, new regulations, retirement plans, Nursing Home, Nursing Home Costs

Tax Changes: A Boon for Gift Fund Donations

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Tue, Apr 26, 2011

According to some barometers, there has been a recent surge in charitable giving over these, the first few months of 2011. Apparently, a good number of people have figured out that now is a good time to give.

As a recent article on InvestmentNews.com reports, “The Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, the nation's second-largest, collected about $129 million during the first quarter, a 60% in- crease over the same period a year earlier. Donations out of the $4.8 billion fund totaled $87 million, a 31.2% increase from $66 million.”

Why the sudden increase? The new tax deal reached in December makes 2011 and 2012 particularly attractive years for charitable giving. Conditions are ripe for estate reduction, and charitable giving is one of the best forms of estate reduction.

There is something counter-intuitive to this giving season, though. If estate reduction is the motivation for charitable giving, and if you should be swayed into practicing it yourself, why is it important to do so now, with the estate tax exemption at an historic high ($5 million) and the rates at generous lows?

You just cannot forget the fact that these conditions are temporary, and set to expire at the end of 2012. President Obama, speaking for most liberals, has already voiced his plans on lowering the Gift and Estate tax exemptions far below their current generous rates as well as increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans. And with the recent (and long-overdue) focus on debt-reduction, wealth transfer taxes are quite likely to experience a resurgence of popularity in Congress.

Experts are recommending that wealthy individuals and families make the most of the existing philanthropy-friendly tax provisions before they disappear. You can learn more about gifting strategies in the Estate Planning Strategies section of our website. To learn more about gifting, and other estate planning options, attend a free Trust, Estate and Asset Preservation workshop. 

Tags: 2011, New estate tax law, gifts, gift tax

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

Reasons to Consider Keeping your Life Insurance

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Mon, Mar 21, 2011

Purchasing life insurance in an amount sufficient to cover an estate tax liability has long been a staple of estate planning strategy. But with so many escaping federal estate taxes under the new tax law, families are starting to re-examine their need for life insurance obtained to help heirs pay the tax.

Faced with continuing premium payments, many are asking whether they need to keep the insurance. You should think twice, though (and get some professional advice) before giving up your policy. The Wall Street Journal recently advised readers to consider keeping life insurance.

First – realize that the “death tax” is not dead. We are seeing an unexpectedly generous exemption this year and next ($5 million per individual, $10 million for a married couple), but don’t forget that the exemption was a mere $675,000 in 2001. As government coffers continue to run dry, a “more robust” estate tax could be very tempting way to raise funds. At any rate, current law expires at the end of 2012, and we don’t know yet what happens next. If you relinquish a policy now, you may find it more expensive – or even impossible – to replace it later. Remember, life insurance is purchased with your good health, cash just pays the premiums.

Second – that life insurance policy could solve a number of other thorny problems, regardless the state of the estate tax. If you have spent more of your savings and investments, life insurance can provide the inheritance you had hoped for your heirs. Life insurance also can help equalize an estate – especially for business owners who have some children participating in the family business and some who do not.

If you’re having trouble keeping up with those premiums, there may be cost-effective options that still allow you to keep some coverage. If you have a whole or universal life policy, you can ask the insurer to reduce the death benefit to a level at which you can afford to make payments. You also may ask your heirs to cover all or a portion of the costs. As long as the policy is owned by a trust for their benefit, there are ways to do this with no gift-tax consequences.

A sale or surrender of your policy has tax consequences, so be sure to consult an advisor before making any decisions about your policy.

For more information on estate planning with life insurance, check out our website.

Tags: massachusetts estate planning strategies, estate tax, Massachusetts estate tax, New estate tax law, Massacusetts Estate Tax, life insurance

How To Craft, Revise and Maintain A Well-Thought-Out Estate Plan

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Wed, Mar 09, 2011

"Because there is no April 15th for Estate Planning and Asset Protection, many people try to procrastinate or avoid it.  However, there can be grave consequences to neglecting it." --Dennis Sullivan, Esq. CPA, LLM

It certainly is understandable that no one enjoys a conversation about death – especially their own! And, with the estate tax exemption now set at $5 million for an individual and $10 million for a couple, many people may believe they have no reason to consult an attorney about their estate planning.

Massachusetts will assess a 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.

But avoiding the topic of estate planning can mean unnecessary expense, confusion and conflict.  Why do you need an estate plan? A comprehensive estate plan ensures that your estate is distributed according to your wishes, provides protection for you in the event of your own disability, and allows you to plan for your family. 

Can I write my own will? You certainly can; however, improperly drafted or last-minute,wills frequently are contested and invalidated in court. Massachusetts does NOT recognize handwritten wills. If you don’t know what you’re doing, the outcome could be much different than you expect. 

What should every estate plan have?  The list should include a will, powers of attorney for financial affairs and for health care, and a living will along with appropriate trusts.  Trusts not only reduce estate taxes, but they also help their heirs to avoid probate. Trusts also can shield assets from nursing home and medical expenses, loss due to unforeseen circumstances, such as bankruptcy, divorce or lawsuits of your heirs.

Two common mistakes people make in their estate planning: failure to plan for their personal effects and failure to review and update their plans over time. 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: massachusetts estate planning strategies, will, power of attorney, living will, health care proxy, HIPAA, Estate Planning, trusts, estate tax, Massachusetts estate tax, estate tax savings, Protective Trusts, Estate Planning, Mistakes, New estate tax law, Massacusetts Estate Tax

How the 2010 Tax Relief Act Could Affect Your Estate

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Tue, Mar 08, 2011

The 2010 Tax Relief Act brought significant changes to the estate and gift tax rules – and an excellent opportunity for you to review your estate planning goals, and the legal documents to achieve them. The new law is complex, and the rules are only in place for two years – this year and next. SmartBusiness recently ran an article highlighting some of the more important provisions:

  • Estate Taxes. The estate tax exemption will be $5 million ($10 for a married couple), with a maximum tax rate of 35 percent. The new law also provides a “portability” feature of the exemption amounts for married couples. Any exemption amount that remains unused at the death of a spouse is available for use by the surviving spouse. These two changes – the increase in the exemption amount and the portability feature – could impact your estate plan if your planning strategy includes a Credit Shelter Trust. Under certain circumstances, your credit shelter trust could be over-funded, leaving limited assets for your surviving spouse. It also is possible that you may no longer need a credit shelter trust at all.
  • Gift Taxes. The new gift tax exemption is set at $5 million, up from just $1 million. Generally, you may consider gifting property that you believe will appreciate in value. Gifting now will now only remove the current value of the property from your estate, but also any future appreciation.

Remember, even if your total estate is less than $5 million, you (and your family) still need comprehensive estate planning to take advantage of tax planning opportunities available to you and to ensure that your wishes are carried out in the event of your death or disability.

Massachusetts Residents  remain subject to Massachusetts estate taxes on amounts above one million dollars. Regardless of the federal estate tax increased exemption for the next two years, Massachusetts will assess an estate tax on all estates above $1 million. However a married couple many times will only get one exempt amount to split, unless they take the necessary steps to ensure their estate plan is up to date and funded correctly so they will be eligible to receive the $2 million combined exemption, as there is NO PORTABILITY in Massachusetts.

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.

You can learn more about estate tax in the Tax Planning Strategies on our website. Be sure to check out our handy Determining the Estate Tax page too.  To learn how you can protect your family, home, lifesavings and legacy, attend a free Estate Planning and Asset Protection Workshop in Wellesley.

Tags: massachusetts estate planning strategies, estate tax, Massachusetts estate tax, estate tax savings, New estate tax law, Massacusetts Estate Tax, gift tax

New Estate Tax Law Gives Family Businesses Great Opportunity

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Fri, Mar 04, 2011

The new estate tax law, in effect this year and next, offers a unique opportunity to family business owners who want to pass their business on to the next generation. As a recent Wall Street Journal Article points out, taking advantage of the low gift tax levels (while you still can) could save your family business a hefty amount in potential estate taxes. But transferring ownership can raise complicated succession and estate planning issues that you should consider carefully before giving away any stock.

The recent tax law changes brought the gift tax threshold up to $5 million for an individual and to $10 million for couples in 2011 and 2012. Yes, that means you can give away that much now, without incurring a penny in gift tax. But, since this law is in effect for only two years, you’ll have a narrow window of opportunity and thorny decisions to make quickly.

While you can transfer ownership without necessarily giving up control, you will have to make some difficult decisions, including: who will eventually lead the business, how to treat non-business family members fairly, and how to fund your own retirement.

The answers to those questions will help determine which estate planning techniques make the most sense for your family, and your family business. Whatever your ultimate goals, now is the time to start exploring your options. There are large sums of money at stake, and only a short time to seize this opportunity.

You can learn more about business succession issues on the Business Exit Planning on our website, as well as pages on Family Owned Businesses and Tax Planning Strategies

Tags: estate tax, estate tax savings, 2011, New estate tax law, gift tax, Tax Savings, Business Succession Planning

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