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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

2018 Changes to VA Aid and Attendance Pension Rule

The Veterans Administration (VA) has changed their non-service connected pension benefit (sometimes called “Aid and Attendance”) eligibility rules.

These changes will take effect October 18, 2018.

NET WORTH LIMIT

The new net worth limit will be the maximum Community Spouse Resource Allowance (CSRA) that is used by the Medicaid program. Currently, this is $123,600.

The old rule considered life expectancy, negative monthly cash flow, and other similar factors. Often an $80,000 limit was referred to even though this was never supported by the rules.

Now that there is a set net worth limit, there will be less confusion concerning who is eligible. Hopefully this will help make the application process quicker. All claimants will need to have $123,600 or less in order to qualify. If they have more than this limit, they will need to decrease their net worth to be eligible for pension.

LOOK-BACK AND PENALTY PERIODS

There will now be a period of ineligibility imposed if a claimant makes an uncompensated transfer during the 3-year lookback period. An uncompensated transfer might be moving money into an irrevocable trust or an immediate annuity.

If a claimant made an uncompensated transfer during the 36-month lookback period, the penalty period will begin the month after the last transfer occurred. The maximum penalty period will be 5 years (60 months).

The penalty period will be determined by taking the total of the uncompensated transfers during the lookback period and dividing it by the Maximum Allowable Pension Rate (MAPR) in effect on the date of the pension claim at the aid and attendance level for a veteran with one dependent. This MAPR is currently $2,169.

For example, if a claimant had gifted his son $32,550* two years before filing the “Aid and Attendance” claim, he would be ineligible for pension for the next 15 months ($32,550/$2,169=15 months).

*Only transfers above the net worth limit will be penalized.

PURCHASING AN ANNUITY
A quick way to gain eligibility for VA pension used to be purchasing an immediate annuity. However, now assets moved into an annuity to spend down net worth will be penalized if the annuity cannot be liquidated. Also, the monthly income from the annuity will be considered income.

Therefore, purchasing an immediate annuity is no longer an attractive option.

IRREVOCABLE TRUSTS

Irrevocable trusts have been used to reduce net worth as well, but now those transfers will be penalized if made within 36 months of filing a claim.

While the new rules make irrevocable trusts less immediately effective, they will still be an effective planning tool. A claimant can create a trust, transfer assets to it, and then wait 36 months to file a claim. As long as their assets are below the limit at the time of the claim, they should be approved.

SPENDING DOWN NET WORTH

If a claimant has more than $123,600, but does not have enough excess assets to justify creating an irrevocable trust, they should focus on spending their assets down.

Unfortunately, “in the absence of clear and convincing evidence showing otherwise, an asset transfer made during the look-back period was for the purpose of decreasing net worth to establish pension entitlement.” This means that any transfer not made for fair market value will be penalized, if the amount is over the CSRA limit.

The good news is that purchases for fair market value for the veteran or surviving spouse are allowed. This means that purchases of home repairs, vehicles, medical equipment, clothing, electronics, vacations, etc. are all permissible as long as they are used for the claimant (you can’t buy a cruise ticket for your son).

SUMMARY


  • Net worth limit is $123,600 (2018).Claimants that transferred assets within the last three years (36 months) will now be subject to a period of ineligibility (“penalty period”)
  • Immediate annuities will be penalized if purchased within the three-year lookback period
  • Transfers to irrevocable trusts will be penalized if within the three-year lookback period
  • Allowable ways to spend down assets are to spend them on items or services that are purchased at fair market value for the veteran or surviving spouse

This is a very significant change in the VA rules that will affect many veterans and surviving spouses that are in need of in-home, assisted living, or nursing home care.

Now more than ever, it is important to consider long-term care insurance and work with an elder law attorney to design an appropriate plan before the need for long-term care arises.

If you need assistance, please contact Golowin Legal to schedule a one-hour meeting to discuss your goals.

These rules were published in the Federal Register as "Net Worth, Asset Transfers, and Income Exclusions for Needs-Based Benefits" on on September 18, 2018.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Estate Planning In Second Marriage Situations

        

            Estate planning is critical in second marriage situations. Meeting or knowing people who are on their second or third marriage isn’t exactly uncommon nowadays. Many of us also know that remarriages entail a lot of adjustments and sometimes complications, especially when there are kids involved. Simply put, blending of two families together can be pretty challenging.

            With all the challenges and concerns on the surface of every remarriage, estate planning is often forgotten or set aside by many couples. But with the merging of two families, concerns and challenges about financial, legal and estate planning multiply.

            The following are some of the issues you should take note of, as explained by Mark Eghrari, and elder law attorney in Long Island, in his article Second Marriage And Estate Planning: 5 Things You May Not Have Considered:


Income and assets that are combined in second marriages may be at risk, if one of you still has financial issues and entanglements with a former spouse. Creditors may come for you to hold you liable of an old debt, as they “are not always bound by divorce settlements,” Mark said. To avoid complications, you may opt to keep you and your spouse’s money separate.

*If you are considering creating a joint trust, you may want to read one of my old blogs: Should I Create a Joint Trust? (Should We Have One Trust or Two?)



You also should understand the status of your properties after remarrying. Mark explains that in a community property state, those you receive before the marriage remain yours, while those you acquire after become co-owned by you and your spouse. On the other hand, “ownership is controlled by titles, registrations, or ownership documents” in a common law state. To help you decide on matters regarding these properties and in connection with your estate plan, you should see professional advice from a lawyer.



A Trust will sufficiently protect assets in case one of the spouses marries again after the other’s death. Protection for the separate assets of spouse’s children may be set up, as preferred.



Complications may happen if a Trust isn’t set up with specific wishes regarding the inheritance of the children. Do the children of the first spouse need to wait for the second spouse to die before they get their inheritance? Does the new spouse get to decide who will inherit the joint assets? All these should be explicitly stated in the Trust, to avoid unintentionally disinheriting your children from your previous marriage.



Whether the surviving spouse be allowed to stay in the home or not is a concern for blended families. What resolves this is again, putting the home in a Trust. According to Mark, many couples do that “for the benefit of the surviving spouse.”

With the different new adjustments in every remarriage, always consider to revise your estate plan (if you already have one) or seek legal advice to set it up. Remember that it isn’t an easy process—you may experience pitfalls in setting up your estate plan in a second marriage—but it is necessary step that no couples of remarriages should overlook.
           


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

2018 VA Aid and Attendance Pension Rates

What are the 2018 VA Aid and Attendance Pension rates?

For 2018, the Maximum Allowable Pension Rates (MAPR) for the VA Basic Pension, Housebound, and Aid and Attendance ratings have increased from 2017.

As indicated below, the maximum monthly pension payable to a married veteran in need of Aid and Attendance is $2,169 per month. The maximum monthly payment to a surviving spouse is $1,176.

See the table below:


Maximum Allowable Pension Rate (MAPR)
Approx. Monthly Benefit
Veteran
(Basic Pension with no dependent)
$13,166
$1,097
Veteran
(Basic Pension with one dependent)
$17,241
$1,436
Veteran
(Housebound with no dependent)
$16,089
$1,340
Veteran
(Housebound with one dependent)
$20,166
$1,680
Veteran
(Aid and Attendance with no dependent)
$21,962
$1,830
Veteran
(Aid and Attendance with one dependent)
$26,036
$2,169
Each additional child
$2,250
$187



Surviving Spouse
(Basic Pension with no dependent)
$8,830
$735
Surviving Spouse
(Housebound with no dependent)
$10,792
$899
Surviving Spouse
(Aid and Attendance with no dependent)
$14,113
$1,176
Surviving child
$2,250
$187



Veteran Married to Veteran
(Both Aid and Attendance)
$34,837
$2,903

Golowin Legal, LLC provides Medicaid and VA Aid and Attendance Pension planning to families in the central Ohio area.  If you or a loved one is a wartime veteran or surviving spouse and is paying for in-home, assisted living or nursing home care, call us at (614) 453-5208 today to inquire about eligibility for VA Aid and Attendance benefits. Visit our website for more information on VA Aid and Attendance Pension Planning.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

How To Name Legal Guardians For Kids

For parents, naming a legal guardian for your children can be the hardest estate planning decision to make. The guardian is the person that will raise your child(ren) if mom and dad both pass away or are incapacitated.

In her article “Choosing Legal Guardians for Your Children? A Mother’s Thoughts,” Maran Hanley says that many of the families she interviewed were having trouble selecting a guardian due to emotional reasons, including “guilt, fear, and the unknown.” 

Maran points out that naming a guardian is often a sticking point for parents. While some people are fortunate enough to have a good number of family members or friends to choose from, other people do not have that advantage.

According to her,
"One young family struggled selecting a guardian because neither parent had a sibling qualified for the responsibility of raising their children: one with serious medical struggles, and another with Autism Spectrum Disorder."
But guess what? That family still chose a legal guardian. They chose the kids’ maternal grandmother, “due to her familiarity with and love for the children,” as stated in the article.

Here we see the importance of deciding to select a legal guardian despite a setback. If you have a challenge of this kind also, you should not let that stop you from naming a guardian. This is because if you do not name a guardian for your child, the court will have to make a decision for you...and the judge does not know anything about who you may or may not have wanted to choose!

What about naming a guardian that has their own children? The article mentioned that some parents worry that the guardian may “prioritize a natural loyalty to their own kids” or take a different parenting style with your children (more strict or more lax). 


Yet as Maran said so herself,



And you, as a parent, have to make that choice.

Maran disclosed how her family went about their selection process for a guardian:

  1. My husband and I came to a consensus about our most important family values.
  2. We listed all possible candidates from the pool of family and friends.
  3. We discussed each candidate relative to our family values and made the best decision we could with the information available and the beliefs we hold important.
She also shared other ideas that have helped other couples: spreadsheets, lists, discussions, surveys, understanding emotional block, and connecting with friends, among others. You can follow what Maran and her husband did, try these others things and find what works for you.

When you’ve tried everything and still have a very hard time deciding, let me tell you what I said a few years back on my blog “What To Do If You Can't Decide Who To Name As Guardians For Your Kids”:

If you don't decide, a Judge will.

Even your worst choice would be better than that, right?

So go on and make that choice.

Here’s another important thing other couples might overlook--Your role does not end on just choosing the legal guardian. You have to formalize your decision.

Your choice of guardian and other specific wishes regarding the care that your children would get after you are gone would be good as nothing when you don’t put it in legal writing. Talk to your lawyer and legally document that decision.

For even more, like why you should name short-term emergency guardians for children, click the link!

Golowin Legal works with many parents of young children. As part of the estate planning process, we ensure that parents have named emergency and permanent guardians for minor children. Call us today at (614) 453-5208 to schedule an meeting. Visit our website for more information on Estate Planning for Parents in Columbus, Ohio.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Danger Of Do-It-Yourself Wills

The internet is a wonderful information sharing tool. The ability to easily research nearly any topic enabled me to fix my dishwasher and make other repairs that I would not have known how to do without the internet. Unfortunately, this access to information promotes people people falling into the trap of thinking it is simple to create vital estate planning documents themselves.

A great example of a document that seems simple to create is a Will. Recently I posted about the importance and urgency of getting a will, but a Do-It-Yourself Will (DIY) is not the way to go in all but the most simple situations. Even then, I urge you to think twice.

You might think you can never go wrong if you just strictly follow an online format or an example of a will from the internet, but many people have tried going this path and ended up risking their assets and dragging their family into a winding legal battle.


If you are thinking about what the dangers of DIY wills could be, here are a few real life examples. Author Deborah Jacobs called them “DIY horror stories” in her article The Case Against Do-It-Yourself Wills:

#1 Charles Kuralt, the CBS News correspondent and anchor

“Several weeks before he died in 1997, he penned a note to Patricia Elizabeth Shannon, his mistress for 29 years, promising to leave her 90 acres and a renovated schoolhouse near the Montana fishing retreat where they spent time together.

After Kuralt’s death, his family and Shannon spent six years in court fighting over whether this note was a valid amendment to the 1994 will that a lawyer had prepared, or simply a promise to revise the document–a promise that Kuralt never carried out. Without ruling on this issue, a Montana court awarded Shannon the $600,000 property but stuck Kuralt’s family with all the estate taxes.”

#2 Wealthy Texan

“A wealthy Texan who tried to save a few bucks wound up forfeiting his $3.5 million federal estate tax exemption. Using a form he copied from a library book, this guy cobbled together a will, leaving everything–a cool $7 million–to his wife. There was no estate tax due at that point because assets left to a citizen spouse (or to charity) generally aren’t subject to the tax. But anything left when she died, less her own exemption amount, could be taxable as part of her estate.

To fix the problem after the husband died, William Wollard, a lawyer with his own practice in McKinney, Texas, recommended the wife disclaim (or turn down) the entire $3.5 million exemption amount, allowing it to pass under state law, estate-tax free to the couple’s three adult sons. The assets she chose to disclaim were most of the ranch land the couple owned, and a large sum of cash.”

#3 Father Estranged From His Son

“Dad bought DIY will software from a big-box store and, following the prompts, listed his assets, but omitted some important ones: small numbers of shares of various phone company stocks that he had bought many years earlier. Those shares, which probably once seemed like tiddlywinks, had burgeoned in value because of mergers and stock splits and were worth more than $1.5 million, comprising most of Dad’s estate, by the time he died.

Unfortunately, the DIY will did not include what’s called a residuary clause–indicating how to distribute what is left after estate expenses, creditors and taxes have been paid and gifts of specific items or sums of money have been satisfied. So guess what happened? The stocks passed according to the law of intestacy, and the son, who the father wanted to disinherit, walked away with almost $400,000. To make matters worse, he had a substance abuse problem and blew through the money in less than a year."


I could go on with many more examples, but the point is that a DIY will is often a disaster waiting to happen. An online DIY will package or a library template cannot and will never be able to properly replace having an experienced legal expert to set up your will and other critical estate planning documents.

If the people in the stories above had only hired a lawyer, they could have had better estate planning that would have honored their wishes and made it easier to their family and loved ones.

Should having a DIY will ever cross your mind, remember that Timothy E. Kalamaros, a lawyer with his own practice in South Bend, Ind. Compared DIY wills to “pulling your own tooth with a pair of pliers instead of going to the dentist.” Yikes!

Golowin Legal, LLC helps create Wills and comprehensive Estate Plans in Columbus, Dublin, Upper Arlington, Hilliard and the central Ohio area. If you or a loved one needs assistance in setting up will or trust, call us at (614) 453 5208 today. Visit our website for more information on Wills and Estate Planning Documents.


Tuesday, September 05, 2017

There Is More To Estate Planning Than A Will

While having a will is key in estate planning, people often make the mistake of thinking that its the only estate planning document they need.

A Forbes article, The Biggest Estate Planning Mistake People Make points out that a “will has little or nothing to do with you, It’s all about planning for someone else.” 

            So, what is estate planning?        



To guarantee that you are well-covered legally, financially and medically even when you are debilitated and cannot decide for yourself, make sure to complete the following five documents in your estate plan: 

Also known as Health Care Power of Attorney or Medical Power of Attorney, the Advanced Health Care Directive is one of the two legal documents every adult needs. This document assures you that your chosen and trusted health care agent will be able to make health care decisions for you when you are unable to do so for yourself. 


Living Will contains your instructions on what actions should be taken if you are permanently unconscious or terminally ill. A Living Will is often signed by persons who do not want the burden of deciding whether to remove life support to be placed on the shoulders of a loved one.

A Durable Power of Attorney (often called a Financial Power of Attorney), on the other hand, will cover other practical and financial obligations you are incapable of handling. Again, your chosen and trusted agent will make decisions and do thing on your behalf, which includes but are not limited to: payment of bills, taking care of investments and overall financial management. 

A Revocable Living Trust “acts like a super power of attorney,” according to Brad Wiewel. It reduces the possibility of having problems with financial institutions accepting your Durable Power of Attorney and gives you many other benefits. One main advantage of having a revocable living trust is that assets transferred to the trust avoid probate at death, which keeps details of your estate private and often reduces the cost and time of administration after your death.

If you are a long-time reader of my blogs, you might remember me enumerating the benefits of a revocable living trust when I discussed the flexibility of living trusts.

You must take note though, that even with a living trust, you will still need a Durable Power of Attorney “to identify the person you want to manage your retirement accounts, like your 401(k) and your IRAs,” according to the Forbes article.


A HIPAA Medical Authorization ensures that the people you name are legally entitled to obtain your protected health information. In other words, it allows your loved ones to be informed of your condition if you have a medical emergency or condition that prevents you from communicating with them directly.


If you want want to donate your organs when you die, you need to complete an Organ Donor Registry form. You should also notify the BMV when renewing your driver's license and inform your health care agent. To join the organ donor registry, visit Donate Life Ohio.



Ready to get your estate planning taken care of? Call me at 614.453.5208 to set up a free 1-hour initial consultation.

Russell C. Golowin helps clients create wills, trusts powers of attorney, HIPAA Medical Authorizations and other estate planning documents in the central Ohio area. Visit his website for more information on estate planning in Columbus, Ohio. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Half of Adult Americans Don't Have A Will

A recent survey of Caring.com reveals that 58% of adults in the U.S. do not have a will or living trust. This percentage shows how adults neglect the importance of estate planning.

If you are part of this population, read on.           

I understand that it is easy to put off end-of-life planning not only for the young, but also for most people who refuse to think about their mortality. However, this kind of thinking prevents you from making decisions that will save your loved ones from additional stress during a time of great grief.

Have you considered setting up a will but never really acted on it?

Caring.com's survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International found out that 47% out of 1,003 adults do not have estate planning documents because they “haven’t gotten around to it.”

Procrastination is a common hindrance to any kind of planning, but once you know the burden and stress that a lack of will or living trust will give to your loved ones, you might reconsider.

I have previously written a blog post "Steps To Take When A Loved One Dies", a long list of to-do’s that will definitely exhaust bereaved family members. You wouldn’t want your loved ones to go through this arduous process while on a grieving period. If you need a bit of a push to start your estate planning, think of your loved ones. Do it for them.

 

Are you hesitant because of the value of your assets? 


Jody Giles, author of “Missing Pieces Plan: Providing You and Your Loved Ones Peace of Mindsays, “Even if you don’t have the wealth of Steve Jobs or Prince, what you do have means something to somebody. Regardless of the amount of ‘wealth’ you are passing on, let it be handed over based on your wishes, not your state’s laws.”

 

Still thinking about it? Here are two more reasons why you should seriously consider starting your estate planning NOW:


If you are a parent, you have to ensure that your child will be given the best care even after you are gone by nominating a guardian for your children. Giles stresses that a will has a critical role for the minor children and all parents need a will, “If for no other reason than the sole purpose of naming guardians.” This isn’t usually a topic that you or your partner would comfortably discuss, but it is imperative. You would want to leave your children under the care of people you trust, and not someone appointed by a judge. 

You need to have a health care power of attorney. Why? Because when there’s medical emergency and you are not able to decide for yourself, you want someone that you trust make the decisions for you. When a child reaches 18 years of age, parents are no longer legally empowered to make medical decisions for their children. In medical emergencies, you may even find it difficult to get updates on your child's condition without an advance health care directive and HIPAA Release.



Ready to take the first step but still have questions? Here are some answers to the questions commonly asked by clients and friends:

 

            Isn’t estate planning too complicated and costly?

 

It depends. The extent and complexity of your financial situation and your personal goals and wishes directly affect the process of estate planning. Simple estate planning usually doesn't cost much, but expect higher expenses when there’s a need to sort out some issues. According to Ashley Case, an Arizona-based tax and estate-planning attorney, “For individuals with modest wealth and straightforward wishes, a simple estate plan can be prepared quickly and inexpensively. Some factors that tend to complicate an estate plan include multiple marriages, children from different relationships, certain business assets, a higher net-worth, and complex wishes regarding distributions.”

 

            Should I get a will or a living trust?

 

            Mark Gilfix, an elderlaw attorney with Gilfix and La Poll Associates, LLP, suggests that you should choose living trust over a will. He discussed in a Caring.com video, Estate Planning: What You Needthe main factors to consider in choosing between a will and a living trust.  

However, Giflix emphasized that having a will is much better than nothing.

 

            How will I start with my estate planning?

 

      Another video of Mark Giflix briefly enumerates these steps to follow:


 

      He mentioned that the first step is to choose a trusted agent (usually chosen from parents, siblings, children and trusted friends). Then the next step would be determining your personal plan for your assets and where you want them to go when you are gone. Lastly, he highlighted the need to work with an expert upfront.  


With this guide, you can be more confident in taking the first few steps in implementing your estate plan. Remember that a help of an expert in this field can save you time and give you peace of mind that your documents have been prepared correctly. This way, you will avoid any possible problems and additional expenses in the future.

 

Russell C. Golowin is an Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney for families in the Columbus, Ohio area.  If you need assistance with wills, trusts and other estate planning documents, call (614) 453-5208 today. Visit his website for more information on estate planning in Columbus, Ohio.