While the new tax law doubled the federal estate tax exemption, meaning the vast majority of estates will not have to pay any federal estate tax, it doesn't mean you should ignore its impact on your estate plan.
In December 2017, Republicans in Congress and President Trump increased the federal estate tax exemption to $11.18 million for individuals and $22.36 million for couples, indexed for inflation. (For 2019, the figures are $11.4 million and $22.8 million, respectively.) The tax rate for those few estates subject to taxation is 40 percent.
While most estates won't be subject to the federal estate tax, you should review your estate plan to make sure the changes won't have other negative consequences or to see if there is a better way to pass on your assets. One common estate planning technique when the estate tax exemption was smaller was to leave everything that could pass free of the estate tax to the decedent's children and the rest to the spouse. If you still have that provision in your will, your kids could inherit your entire estate while your spouse would be disinherited.
For example, as recently as 2001 the federal estate tax exemption was a mere $675,000. Someone with, say, an $800,000 estate who hasn’t changed their estate plan since then could see the entire estate go to their children and none to their spouse.
Another consideration is how the new tax law might affect capital gains taxes. When someone inherits property, such as a house or stocks, the property is usually worth more than it was when the original owner purchased it. If the beneficiary were to sell the property, there could be huge capital gains taxes. Fortunately, when someone inherits property, the property’s tax basis is "stepped up," which means the tax basis would be the current value of the property. If the same property is gifted, there is no "step up" in basis, so the gift recipient would have to pay capital gains taxes. Previously, in order to avoid the estate tax you might have given property to your children or to a trust, even though there would be capital gains consequences. Now, it might be better for your beneficiaries to inherit the property.
In addition, many states have their own estate tax laws with much lower exemptions, so it is important to consult with your attorney to make sure your estate plan still works for you.
What subjects in a will are interchangeable among all states? Is guardianship the same no matter where you live? How about real estate? If I move frequently due to my company, is there anything in my will I know will always be valid or do I have to make changes every time I move? What are the big topics that change when you move?
Due to the full faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution, which reads "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State," your will executed in one state will be honored if you move to another state. So you don't have to get a new will every time you move. This is also true of revocable trusts; they will be honored in all states.
This is less true of durable powers of attorney and health care directives. While they should be honored from state to state, sometimes banks, medical professionals, and financial and health care institutions don't accept documents and forms with which they are not familiar. In addition, for some purposes the execution requirements may be different. You ask about real estate. Some states require witnesses on durable powers of attorney and others don't. A state requiring witnesses may not allow a power of attorney without them to be used to convey real estate even though the document is perfectly valid in the state in which it was executed.
A power of attorney is one of the most important estate planning documents, but when one sibling is named in a power of attorney, there is the potential for disputes with other siblings. No matter which side you are on, it is important to know your rights and limitations.
A power of attorney allows someone to appoint another person -- an "attorney-in-fact" or “agent” -- to act in place of him or her -- the “principal” -- if the principal ever becomes incapacitated. There are two types of powers of attorney: financial and medical. Financial powers of attorney usually include the right to open bank accounts, withdraw funds from bank accounts, trade stock, pay bills, and cash checks. They could also include the right to give gifts. Medical powers of attorney allow the agent to make health care decisions. In all of these tasks, the agent is required to act in the best interests of the principal. The power of attorney document explains the specific duties of the agent.
When a parent names only one child to be the agent under a power of attorney, it can cause bad feelings and distrust. If you are dealing with a sibling who has been named agent under a power of attorney or if you have been named agent under a power of attorney over your siblings, the following are some things to keep in mind:
Right to information. Your parent doesn't have to tell you whom he or she chose as the agent. In addition, the agent under the power of attorney isn't required to provide information about the parent to other family members.
Access to the parent. An agent under a financial power of attorney should not have the right to bar a sibling from seeing their parent. A medical power of attorney may give the agent the right to prevent access to a parent if the agent believes the visit would be detrimental to the parent's health.
Revoking a power of attorney. As long as the parent is competent, he or she can revoke a power of attorney at any time for any reason. The parent should put the revocation in writing and inform the old agent.
Removing an agent under power of attorney. Once a parent is no longer competent, he or she cannot revoke the power of attorney. If the agent is acting improperly, family members can file a petition in court challenging the agent. If the court finds the agent is not acting in the principal's best interest, the court can revoke the power of attorney and appoint a guardian.
The power of attorney ends at death. If the principal under the power of attorney dies, the agent no longer has any power over the principal's estate. The court will need to appoint an executor or personal representative to manage the decedent's property.
If you are drafting a power of attorney document and want to avoid the potential for conflicts, there are some options. You can name co-agents in the document. You need to be careful how this is worded or it could cause more problems. The best way to name two co-agents is to let the agents act separately. Another option is to steer clear of family members and name a professional fiduciary.
Sibling disputes over how to provide care or where a parent will live can escalate into a guardianship battle that can cost the family thousands of dollars. Drafting a formal sibling agreement (also called a family care agreement) is a way to give guidance to the agent under the power of attorney and provide for consequences if the agreement isn't followed. Even if you don't draft a formal agreement, openly talking about the areas of potential disagreement can help. If necessary, a mediator can help families come to an agreement on care.
To determine the best way for your family to provide care, consult with your attorney.
Raising a grandchild can be tough financially, but grandparents should be aware that there is a tax credit available that could help them. Working grandparents who are supporting their grandchildren may qualify for the earned income tax credit, which could reduce the amount they pay in taxes by thousands of dollars or allow them to receive a refund.
The earned income tax credit is a benefit for working people with low to moderate incomes and dependents, and this includes grandparents. (Taxpayers without a dependent may also qualify, but it is more difficult.) To be able to claim the tax credit, you must be raising a child who meets the following criteria:
Is your son, daughter, adopted child, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, half brother, half sister, step-sister or a descendent of any of them, such as a grandchild or niece or nephew
Is younger than 19 at the end of the year, younger than 24 and a full-time student at the end of the year, or any age and permanently and totally disabled
Lives with you for more than half the year
In addition, to qualify for the tax credit your income must be below certain limits, depending on how many dependents you have. The limits for 2019 are as follows:
One child. Filing as an individual, your income must be less than $41,094. Filing jointly, your income must be less than $46,884.
Two children. Filing as an individual, your income must be less than $46,703. Filing jointly, your income must be less than $52,493.
Three or more children. Filing as an individual, your income must be less than $50,162. Filing jointly, your income must be less than $55,952.
The maximum amount of the tax credit also depends on how many dependents you have. In 2019, the following are the maximum credit amounts:
$6,557 with three or more qualifying children
$5,828 with two qualifying children
$3,526 with one qualifying child
For more information from the IRS about the tax credit, click here.
It may become harder for Medicare beneficiaries to find home health care due to a new rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Although the rule changes the way home health care providers are reimbursed, it could affect patient care as well.
Starting in January 2020, Medicare will reimburse home health agencies at a lower rate when they care for patients who have not been admitted to a hospital first. CMS estimates that it will pay home health agencies approximately 19 percent more for a patient who hires the home health agency directly after leaving a hospital than a patient who was never in the hospital or was only an outpatient. (The Center for Medicare Advocacy calculates that the disparity could be as high as 25 percent.)
In part due to pressure from Medicare to reduce costly inpatient stays, hospitals often do not admit patients, but rather place them on observation status to determine whether they should be admitted. These patients, if not admitted to the hospital for at least three nights, are not eligible for Medicare reimbursement of a limited amount of skilled nursing care and typically head home instead to continue care with Medicare’s home health care benefit.
But a home health agency that cares for a patient who was in the hospital under observation will be reimbursed as if the patient had been an outpatient. This lower reimbursement rate means that home health agencies may be reluctant to provide care for patients who were under observation status or who haven't been in a hospital at all.
If you are hospitalized, it is important to learn whether you are admitted or under observation. Hospitals are required to provide notice to patients if they are under observation for more than 24 hours.
For more information about the new rule from the Center for Medicare Advocacy, click here.
In order to be eligible for Medicaid, you cannot have recently transferred assets. Congress does not want you to move into a nursing home on Monday, give all your money to your children (or whomever) on Tuesday, and qualify for Medicaid on Wednesday. So it has imposed a penalty on people who transfer assets without receiving fair value in return.
This penalty is a period of time during which the person transferring the assets will be ineligible for Medicaid. The penalty period is determined by dividing the amount transferred by what Medicaid determines to be the average private pay cost of a nursing home in your state.
Example: If you live in a state where the average monthly cost of care has been determined to be $5,000, and you give away property worth $100,000, you will be ineligible for benefits for 20 months ($100,000 / $5,000 = 20).
Another way to look at the above example is that for every $5,000 transferred, an applicant would be ineligible for Medicaid nursing home benefits for one month. In theory, there is no limit on the number of months a person can be ineligible.
Example: The period of ineligibility for the transfer of property worth $400,000 would be 80 months ($400,000 / $5,000 = 80).
A person applying for Medicaid must disclose all financial transactions he or she was involved in during a set period of time -- frequently called the "look-back period." The state Medicaid agency then determines whether the Medicaid applicant transferred any assets for less than fair market value during this period. The look-back period for all transfers is 60 months (except in California, where it is 30 months). Also, keep in mind that because the Medicaid program is administered by the states, your state's transfer rules may diverge from the national norm. To take just one important example, New York State does not apply the transfer rules to recipients of home care(also called community care).
The penalty period created by a transfer within the look-back period does not begin until (1) the person making the transfer has moved to a nursing home, (2) he has spent down to the asset limit for Medicaid eligibility, (3) has applied for Medicaid coverage, and (4) has been approved for coverage but for the transfer.
For instance, if an individual transfers $100,000 on April 1, 2017, moves to a nursing home on April 1, 2018, and spends down to Medicaid eligibility on April 1, 2019, that is when the 20-month penalty period will begin, and it will not end until December 1, 2020.
In other words, the penalty period would not begin until the nursing home resident was out of funds, meaning there would be no money to pay the nursing home for however long the penalty period lasts. In states that have so-called "filial responsibility laws," nursing homes may seek reimbursement from the residents' children. These rarely-enforced laws, which are on the books in 29 states, hold adult children responsible for financial support of indigent parents and, in some cases, medical and nursing home costs. In 2012, a Pennsylvania appeals court found a son liable for his mother's $93,000 nursing home bill under the state's filial responsibility law.
Transferring assets to certain recipients will not trigger a period of Medicaid ineligibility. These exempt recipients include the following:
A spouse (or a transfer to anyone else as long as it is for the spouse's benefit)
A blind or disabled child
A trust for the benefit of a blind or disabled child
A trust for the sole benefit of a disabled individual under age 65 (even if the trust is for the benefit of the Medicaid applicant, under certain circumstances).
In addition, special exceptions apply to the transfer of a home. The Medicaid applicant may freely transfer his or her home to the following individuals without incurring a transfer penalty:
The applicant's spouse
A child who is under age 21 or who is blind or disabled
Into a trust for the sole benefit of a disabled individual under age 65 (even if the trust is for the benefit of the Medicaid applicant, under certain circumstances)
A sibling who has lived in the home during the year preceding the applicant's institutionalization and who already holds an equity interest in the home
A "caretaker child," who is defined as a child of the applicant who lived in the house for at least two years prior to the applicant's institutionalization and who during that period provided care that allowed the applicant to avoid a nursing home stay.
Congress has created a very important escape hatch from the transfer penalty: the penalty will be "cured" if the transferred asset is returned in its entirety, or it will be reduced if the transferred asset is partially returned. However, some states are not permitting partial returns. Check with your elder law attorney.