Jan Neal Law Firm LLC

Alabama Elder and Special Needs Law


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Deeding Property with a Reserved Life Estate

agreementThe term “life estate” often comes up in discussions of estate and Medicaid planning, but what exactly does it mean? A life estate is a form of joint ownership that allows one person to remain in a house until his or her death, at which time it passes to the other owner, referred to as the person with the remainder interest. Life estates can be used to avoid probate while giving a house to children without losing the ability to live in the home, remaining responsible for property tax – with the benefit of homestead and age related tax exemptions, remaining responsible for homeowner insurance, yet creating ownership in the children at the death of the parent.   This type of deed can play an important role in Medicaid planning since Medicaid does not assign any value to a life estate when the parent applies for Medicaid to pay for nursing home care.  If the transfer occurred prior to five years before application, there will be no penalty for the transfer.

In a life estate, two or more people each have an ownership interest in a property, but for different periods of time. The person holding the life estate — the life tenant — possesses the property during his or her life. The other owner — the remainderman — has a current ownership interest but cannot take possession until the death of the life estate holder. The life tenant has full control of the property during his or her lifetime and has the legal responsibility to maintain the property as well as the right to use it, rent it out, and make improvements to it.

Another example of use of life estates is when a spouse who owns property in only his or her name wants to leave that property to his or her children from a former marriage but wants the later in life spouse to be protected and have a place to live.  That person might write a will leaving a life estate to the spouse with the remainder to his or her children on the death of the spouse.  This comes up not infrequently when individuals want to protect property passed to them by family and who want to keep that property in their blood line while protecting the spouse as well.

When the life tenant dies, the house will not go through probate, since at the life tenant’s death the ownership will pass automatically to the holders of the remainder interest. Because the property is not included in the life tenant’s probate estate, it can avoid Medicaid estate recovery in states that have not expanded the definition of estate recovery to include non-probate assets, which includes Alabama at the time this is being written.

Although the property will not be included in the probate estate, it will be included in the taxable estate. Depending on the size of the estate and the state’s estate tax threshold, the property may be subject to estate taxation.  However, the joint federal lifetime estate tax exemption and gift tax exclusion is $5,490,000, so few people are actually subject to estate tax.

The life tenant cannot sell or mortgage the property without the agreement of the remaindermen. If the property is sold, the proceeds are divided up between the life tenant and the remaindermen. The shares are determined based on the life tenant’s age at the time — the older the life tenant, the smaller his or her share and the larger the share of the remaindermen.

Be aware that transferring your property and retaining a life estate can trigger a Medicaid ineligibility period if Medicaid application is made within five years of the transfer. Further, purchasing a life estate should not result in a transfer penalty if you buy a life estate in someone else’s home, pay an appropriate amount for the property and live in the house for more than a year.

For example, an elderly man who can no longer live in his home might sell the home and use the proceeds to buy a home for himself and his son and daughter-in-law, with the father holding a life estate and the younger couple as the remaindermen. Alternatively, the father could purchase a life estate interest in the children’s existing home. Assuming the father lives in the home for more than a year and he paid a fair amount for the life estate, the purchase of the life estate should not be a disqualifying transfer for Medicaid.  Just be aware that there may be some local variations on how this is applied, so get good advice before finalizing arrangements involving a life estate if long term care could be a future concern.


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SSI and Gifting Resources

SSI is the basic federal safety net program for the elderly, blind and disabled, providing them with a minimum guaranteed income. If your resources are above the program’s resource limits of $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a married couple, you may be able to “spend down” to qualify for SSI, similar to the process to qualify for the Medicaid program.

If you give away a resource or sell it for less than it is worth in order to get under the SSI resource limit, you may be ineligible for SSI for up to 36 months. The SSA looks at whether or not you have transferred a resource within the previous three years. If you have, it computes a penalty period by dividing the amount of the transfer by your monthly benefit amount.

Thus, if you give your son a $6,000 gift and then apply for a monthly SSI benefit of $600 within three years of the gift, you will not be eligible for SSI for 10 months (6,000/600=10). That 10-month period will begin on the date of the transfer and end 10 months later. In other words, although you can be ineligible for up to 36 months due to a transfer, that is only a cap. The actual period of ineligibility is based on the value of what you transferred divided by the monthly benefit in your state.

You should be aware that transfers may be “cured” by the person to whom you made a gift returning it to you. And, finally, there are certain exceptions to the transfer penalty. These include gifts to:

A spouse (or anyone else 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 applicant, under certain circumstances).

In addition, special exceptions apply to the transfer of a home. The SSI 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 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; or
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.


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How to Deduct Long-Term Care Premiums From Your Income

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Taxpayers with long-term care insurance policies can deduct some of their premiums from their income. Whether you can use the deduction requires comparing your medical expenses to your income in a complicated formula.

Premiums for qualified long-term care insurance policies are tax deductible to the extent that they, along with other unreimbursed medical expenses (including Medicare premiums), exceed 10 percent of the insured’s adjusted gross income. In tax year 2016, taxpayers 65 and older only need medical expenses to exceed 7.5 percent of their income, but in 2017, taxpayers 65 and older will have the same 10 percent rule as everyone else.
The amount of long-term care insurance premium that is deductible is based on the taxpayer’s age and changes each year. For the 2016 tax year, taxpayers who are 40 or younger can deduct only $390 a year, taxpayers between 40 and 50 can deduct $730, taxpayers between 50 and 60 can deduct $1460, taxpayers between 60 and 70 can deduct $3,900, and taxpayers who are 70 or older can deduct up to $4,870 in premiums.

What this means is that taxpayers must total all of their medical expenses and compare them to their income. For example, suppose 64-year-old Frank has an adjusted gross income of $30,000 and long-term care premiums totaling $5,000 as well $1,000 in other medical expenses. Ten percent of $30,000 is $3,000. Frank can only deduct any medical expenses that exceed $3,000. The 2016 limit for deducting long-term care premiums is $3,900. That means Frank can only count $3,900 of his long-term care premiums. If he adds the $3,900 in long-term care premiums to the $1,000 in other expenses his total medical expenses are $4,900. He can deduct $1,900 in medical expenses from his income.

If Frank is 70 in 2016, the calculation changes because his medical expenses only need to exceed 7.5 percent of his income, which would be $2,250. The amount of premiums he can deduct is also increased because of his age–he can deduct up to $4,870 in premiums. Subtracting the income limit from his medical expenses ($4,870 in long-term care premiums and $1,000 in other expenses), Frank can deduct $3,620 in medical expenses from his income. In 2017, Frank will only be able to deduct medical expenses that exceeded 10 percent of his income, so the amount he can deduct will go down.


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January 2017 Bookmarks Newsletter

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The January 2017 Bookmarks Newsletter can be viewed here.


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Quarterly Newsletter Available

shutterstock_63936919Our quarterly newsletter, Elder Law Bookmarks, was sent today.  Articles included in the newsletter are:

  • People with Disabilities Can Now Create Their Own Special Needs Trusts
  • Is it Better to Remarry or Just Live Together?
  • Repealing Obamacare Will Have Consequences for Medicare
  • For Better or Worse, States Are Turning to Managed Care for Medicaid Long-Term-Care
  • Make Reviewing Your Estate Plan One of Your New Year’s Resolutions

If you want to be added to the mail list, send an email to neal@janneallaw.com.

 


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Appointing an Agent for Disposal of Remains in Alabama

It is interesting that people create wills routinely to dispose of their property after death, but seldom consider documenting their desires for burial, cremation or other ceremonial issues.  When prepaid burial plans are not purchased, next of kin usually make those decisions.  But what about the blended family situation where there are children, step-children and later in life spouses?  Each person needs to ask who he or she would want making those arrangements.

Often a later in life marriage is entered with an understanding between the parties that each will be buried beside their first spouse.  Usually that presents no problem, but sometimes over time the wishes of individual members of the blended family change.  Documentation of individual choices is useful in those situations to prevent disputes among the surviving family members.

Alabama law allows the inclusion of burial or cremation wishes in a last will and testament, but such arrangements have limited practical value when considering the immediate need to make arrangements for disposition.  Sometimes the will is not located until weeks or months following death.

Of perhaps more use is an affidavit permitted by Alabama Code § 34-13-11 which allows a person to appoint an adult to be the authorizing agent who can control the location and manner of disposition.  That document will control unless a person dies while on active duty in any branch of the United States Armed Forces, United States Reserve Forces, or National Guard, whereupon the person listed on the emergency data for the Department of Defense will have authority to control the disposition of remains.

While I do not normally provide form documents, the affidavit authorized under Code of Alabama § 34-13-11 is very simple and straightforward, and I am providing here a copy of the statutory form:

                                    Affidavit Concerning Disposition of my Remains

 

State of Alabama

County of _______________

I, (name) ____________________ designate (person selected) __________________ to control the disposition of my remains upon my death. I

__ have

__ have not

attached specific directions concerning the disposition of my remains. If specific directions are attached, the designee shall substantially comply with those directions, provided the directions are lawful and there are sufficient resources in my estate to carry out those directions.

Subscribed and sworn to before me this __ day of the month of ___________ in the year _______.

____________________________ (signature of person creating the affidavit)

______________________________ (signature of notary public)”

Without an affidavit the following surviving people, listed in priority, will have the authority to make burial arrangement:

  1. The spouse,
  2. A majority of the decedent’s children,
  3. The decedent’s parents,
  4. A majority of the decedent’s siblings,
  5. The decedent’s grandparents,
  6. The decedent’s legal guardian at the time of his or her death,
  7. The Personal Representative (executor) of the decedent’s estate,
  8. The next of kin for inheritance purposes,
  9. A public officer, administrator, or employee of the government; or
  10. Any person willing to assume the responsibility, in the absence of all of the people listed above.

It is not a bad idea to think about what you want, who you want to make arrangements and prepare an Affidavit Concerning Disposition of Remains as part of estate planning.  You can add additional instructions to the affidavit while designating an agent and rest assured your wishes will be followed.

 

 


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Beware Caregiver Expense Reimbursement

Caregiver Consoling Senior Woman

I am frequently asked if a parent can reimburse a child or other individual for expenses paid for the benefit of the parent during the spend down phase preceding application for Medicaid without running into problems with Medicaid.  In short, the answer is no unless there is evidence of a debt incurred in the form of a written agreement, promissory note, etc., for which the payment is made.  This is a harsh and difficult position for many caregivers who do not think twice of paying moving expenses, deposits, medical expenses, etc., for a parent only to find that later they cannot be reimbursed because they did not make a formal agreement.

A New York appellate court case recently confirmed this application of the Medicaid regulations by allowing a penalty to be imposed on the transfer of assets to a caregiver daughter without presenting a written agreement to evidence the debt.  Matter of Krajewski v. Zucker (N.Y. Sup. Ct., App. Div., 3rd Dept., No. 522888, Dec. 8, 2016).

In that case Jessie Krajewski lived with her daughter for two years before entering a nursing home. Ms. Krajewski’s husband withdrew money from their joint bank account to reimburse the daughter for her caregiving expenses. After Ms. Krajewski entered the nursing home, she applied for Medicaid. The state imposed a penalty period based, in part, on the transfers made to her daughter.

Ms. Krajewski appealed, arguing that because the transfers were made to reimburse her daughter for her care, the payments were not made in order to qualify for Medicaid. After a hearing, the state upheld the penalty period, and Ms. Krajewski appealed her case in court.

The N.Y. Supreme Court, Appellate Division, affirmed the agency decision, holding that Ms. Krajewski did not rebut the presumption that the transfers were made in order to qualify for Medicaid. The court found that there was no evidence of a written agreement between Ms. Krajewski and her daughter and the only evidence consisted of handwritten summaries of Ms. Krajewski’s living expenses, which was not enough to rebut the presumption.

The lesson to take from this case is that when a caregiver pays expenses for a person who will be applying for Medicaid, it is essential to have written proof of the debt before reimbursing the caregiver for those expenses.  While this is a general rule for transfer of money to a caregiver, be aware of the fact that in Alabama more requirements need to be met to reimburse a family caregiver for actual care provided.  If you want to establish such an arrangement it is important to seek legal advice first.