Archive for June, 2017

No, you Shouldn’t Put your House in your Kids’ Name to Protect against Nursing home costs

Posted on: June 23rd, 2017 by Mark R. Friedman

As New Jersey elder care lawyers, we often meet with families that include a loved one who needs long term care, such as in a nursing home. Nursing home are is incredibly expensive, typically ranging between $6,000 per month in lower-cost parts of the country, to as much as $15,000 per month in northern New Jersey where we are.

Usually, families we see want to protect their assets against those enormous long term care costs. They want to preserve their life savings for their spouse, so she won’t end up impoverished, or for their kids, to pay for their grandkids’ education or the like, instead of spending their life savings on nursing home costs.

The best way to preserve assets is to qualify for Medicaid, a government program that pays for nursing home care. Often, if you meet with an elder law attorney, the attorney can come up with a custom plan to preserve your family’s assets while you qualify for Medicaid, and save those assets within your family rather than losing them all to long term care costs.

However, there is unfortunately a lot of misinformation floating around on this subject. Sometimes we see people who have taken steps before we met with them, that have set them back in terms of asset protection and qualifying for Medicaid. One of the most common is people who have made large gifts without considering the consequences.

For example, some people read on the internet that they should just put their house in their kids’ name, and it will be protected against nursing home costs. However, there are a lot of reasons why that is often a very bad idea.

First, by putting your house in your kids’ name, you no longer own your house. Your kids own it, and they can do whatever they want with it. They can kick you out, sell it and pocket the money. Even if you trust your kids to never do that, they may not have a choice. If your child goes through a nasty divorce, the house could be awarded to their ex-spouse, or the court might order the house sold to raise funds for the divorce. If your child gets into a car accident, a plaintiff could sue your child and a court might order the seizure of your former house, which your child now owns. There are risks to having someone else own your home.

Second, Medicaid penalizes gifts. If you make gifts within five years before you apply for Medicaid, you have to disclose those gifts to the Medicaid agency during the application process. The agency also reviews your financial records (which you must submit) to verify whether gifts were made. If you have made gifts within the five years before you apply, Medicaid imposes a “penalty period” – a period of time during which Medicaid will not pay for your nursing home. Currently in New Jersey, you lose roughly one month of Medicaid for every $12,000 you give away. (The numbers differ in other states.) So if you give away a house worth $280,000, you would lose Medicaid for two years.

The kicker is, this penalty period doesn’t begin until you are otherwise eligible for Medicaid. That involves spending your assets down to under $2,000 (with some nuances that I can’t cover here). So imagine someone gives away her house, and then two years later needs nursing home care. She spends down her funds to below $2,000, then applies for Medicaid. The Medicaid agency tells her that because she gave away her house, Medicaid will not pay for her care for another two years. She has a quickly rising nursing home bill (thousands of dollars per month), and no way to pay it, with no money and no Medicaid. In this scenario, depending on state rules, likely no nursing home would take her, and if she’s already in a nursing home, the home might try to remove her, or come after other family members for unpaid bills.

There are a lot of potential pitfalls to trying to do Medicaid planning yourself without advice from counsel. In some cases, gifts make sense, but they should only be made with guidance from an experienced elder law attorney. Trying to do it yourself is the legal / financial equivalent to trying to do heart surgery on yourself. Which we recommend against.

Five Reasons why Estate Planning is Important

Posted on: June 1st, 2017 by Mark R. Friedman

This is another in a series of guest articles we’ll be posting from attorney colleagues across the country on issues relevant to our readers.  Enjoy!

Because we never know what the future holds, it’s important to plan your estate now rather than put it off until later when it might actually be too late. Let’s take a quick look at the specific reasons why being proactive when it comes to your estate is important:

1. Preparation in case disaster happens
– Estate planning provides you with the opportunity to appoint one or more people to make medical decisions on your behalf if you lose the ability to do that on your own.
– You can specify what, if any, extraordinary measures healthcare providers should take in the event you are incapacitated.
– Designate who will pay your bills during the time you are recovering from a medical issue or emergency.

2. Complete picture of finances
– As part of estate planning, you will inventory your debts and assets.
– You will designate who will inherit your assets and how you want them distributed. This is also true for sentimental items that have little financial value.
– As your review your important documents and other paperwork, you may find that updating some of them is necessary and would have otherwise been overlooked. This includes designating beneficiaries.

3. Reduce the stress of your family members in advance of your passing.
– When estate planning is not done in advance, it’s left to the surviving family members who will already be grieving your loss. Handling the deceased’s finances, distribution of assets, and other matters can add substantial stress to what they will already be experiencing.

4. Provision for your loved ones
– Specify guardians for your minor children.
– Set up a trust for your special needs children or other relatives to distribute funds to them after your passing. An estate planning attorney Scottsdale AZ can assist with this in a manner that the payments don’t interfere with the recipient’s government benefits.
– Designate which of your children from previous relationships and your current relationship should receive various of your assets. This can have the added benefit of protecting those assets from former spouses and creditors. Speak to an estate planning attorney for more details.

5. Establishes a plan in case of your incapacitation.
Estate planning makes it possible to provide information and answers to family members when they will most need to know but are unable to ask you. It is also likely to reduce tensions and conflict among your surviving family members. You can designate any or all of the below:
– The executor of your estate.
– End of life medical care that you wish to have.
– The disbursement of your retirement account funds.
– The disbursement of your sentimental items.
– The handling of your social media accounts.

Too many people delay or avoid planning their estate for any number of reasons. Taking a proactive approach to how you want your estate handled can be beneficial for your entire family. Talk to an estate planning attorney today to discuss your legal options.

Thanks to our colleagues and contributors from Hildebrand Law for their insight into estate planning practice.

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Homepage photo: Cows grazing at Meadowbrook Farm, Bernardsville, NJ by Siddharth Mallya. October 23, 2012.
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