Finance & Law

Many boomers plan on using their assets to make their golden years golden.

By Linda M. toga, Esq.

Linda M. Toga, Esq.

THE FACTS: My husband and I are in our sixties and have three grown children. All were given the same opportunities growing up, but they did not all take advantage of those opportunities or make wise decisions about their futures. Our two daughters are financially secure and doing very well. Our son, however, has struggled and we expect will continue to struggle to make ends meet his entire life.

My husband and I have accumulated significant assets over the years. We have been generous to our children and have made an effort to treat them all the same despite the differences in their financial well-being.

Despite this fact, my son seems to be under the impression that because he needs more, he is entitled to more. He has made comments on a number of occasions suggesting that since we have the means to make his life easier, we should do so. It is clear that he expects that we will be leaving him a sizable inheritance, perhaps even more than we leave our daughters.

We are bothered by these comments for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that my husband and I are planning on using our hard earned money to travel and, if needed, to cover our health care costs. While we fully expect that all of our children will inherit some money from us, I do not believe that we will be leaving any of them substantial assets.

THE QUESTION: How do we make this clear to our son who seems to think he will see a windfall when we die?

THE ANSWER: You and your husband are not alone in having accumulated significant assets that you hope to spend on yourselves. Many boomers benefited by parents who were conservative savers and cautious spenders. Consequently, these parents often accumulated more wealth than they spent and passed that wealth on to their boomer children.

The boomers, on the other hand, may not have been such conscientious savers. Even if they were, they are finding that they are living longer, may need more money for health care and often believe that they need not leave substantial assets to their children since they did so much for them during their lives.

Like you and your husband, many boomers plan on using their assets to make their golden years golden. That is your right. You earned it. You can spend it. However, if you do not want your son to be surprised or resentful when he does not inherit the kind of money he may expect will be coming his way, the best thing to do is to tell him outright.

Perhaps you can share with him the choices you made over the years that resulted in having a significant nest egg. Then tell him how you hope to spend your hard earned money on yourselves while you enjoy a long and healthy life.

You may discover that the comments he has made about a large inheritance were made in jest and that he isn’t really counting on a windfall. That would be the best scenario.

Even if he expresses disappointment and/or anger, you and your husband should feel better about the fact that you were open and honest with him. He can ignore what you say or he can use what you tell him to better plan for his future. In either case, having the conversation will ensure that when you and your husband pass away, he is not blindsided.

Linda M. Toga provides personalized service and peace of mind to her clients in the areas of elder law, estate administration and estate planning, real estate, marital agreements and litigation. Visit her website at www.lmtogalaw.com or call 631-444-5605 to schedule a free consultation.

A trustee must put the interests of the trust beneficiaries before their own

By Nancy Burner, ESQ.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

If you have been named as a trustee of someone’s trust, you may be wondering what you are supposed to do. It is important that the trustee understand his or her duties and responsibilities. The most important thing to remember as a trustee is that the trust assets are not your assets. You are safeguarding them for the settlor and/or beneficiaries, who will receive them after the settlor dies.

As a trustee, you stand in a “fiduciary” role with respect to the beneficiaries of the trust. As a fiduciary, you will be held to a very high standard. The trustee must read the trust document carefully, upon acting initially and when any questions arise. The trust is the road map and the trustee must follow its directions in administering the trust. A trustee should be aware that failing to abide by the terms of the trust document and mismanaging the assets can have serious financial repercussions for the trustee personally such as forfeiture of commissions and surcharge.

This very issue came up in the recent Suffolk County Surrogate’s Court case of Accounting Proceeding the Schweiger Family 2013 Irrevocable Trust decided on Sept. 7, 2017.

The subject trust stated that during the lifetime of the settlor, the trustees in their sole discretion may pay the net income to or for the benefit of the settlor’s beneficiaries or accumulate such income. With respect to principal, the trustees were given the discretion to pay so much of the principal to or for the benefit of the settlor’s beneficiaries. The trust did not require equal principal distributions and same may be made to any or all of the settlor’s beneficiaries.

Distributions made to any beneficiaries during the settlor’s lifetime shall be considered as advancements in determining the beneficiary’s respective share, unless waived by the remaining nonrecipient beneficiaries in writing. The trustees had no authority to pay principal to the settlor.

Despite the language in the trust document, the trustees made distributions to themselves and to individuals that were not beneficiaries, namely the settlor, their children/grandchildren and the spouse of one of the trustees.

In addition, the trustees indicated in their accounting that several of the distributions that were made to themselves as “per settlor’s request.”

After a review of the facts and the language of the trust document, the court held that even if the distributions to the trustees were at the settlor’s suggestion, those distributions were either impermissible gifts of trust assets by the settlor or distributions that the trustees should have assessed against their respective shares as advancements.

With respect to commissions, the court held that intentionally making distributions to individuals who were not beneficiaries of the trust is, in and of itself, a basis to deny commissions. Further, with respect to their self-dealing, either the trustees were in fact aware of the language regarding offsetting advance distributions and chose to disregard it or they were grossly negligent in their failure to seek professional advice to assist them in understanding the duties and responsibilities associated with being trustees. In the end, the trustees were surcharged approximately $230,000 for their self-dealing and failure to abide by the terms of the trust document.

The take away from all of this is that a trustee must follow the terms of the trust instrument and put the interests of the trust beneficiaries before their own. If this is not done the trustee is at risk of personal liability for any breach of duty in the form of denial of commissions or surcharge.

In addition, if you are the trustee of a Medicaid-qualifying irrevocable trust and fail to abide by the terms of the trust, not only do you run the risk of denial of commissions or surcharge, but you can also nullify any protections that the trust provides to the assets held by the trust. This would make all of the assets in the trust be considered an available resource when determining Medicaid eligibility for the settlor and could result in a denial of Medicaid benefits.

With a trustee’s personal liability at stake, it is advisable to retain an attorney to provide advice regarding the trustee’s fiduciary duties and obligations in administering a trust.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

A pet trust is effective immediately upon your death whereas a will can take months to execute.

By Linda Toga

Linda Toga, Esq.

THE FACTS: My mother has a dog, Fido, who means the world to her. When it comes to Fido, money is no object. She is very concerned about what will happen to Fido when she dies. Not only does she worry about who will care for Fido but also about who will pay for Fido’s care.

THE QUESTION: Should these issues be addressed in her will?

THE ANSWER: While the long-term care of Fido can be addressed in her will, your mother needs to make arrangements for Fido’s care for the period immediately following her death because the provisions of her will are not effective until the will is probated. That could take some time.

I always suggest that pet owners arrange in advance for someone to take care of their pet in the event they are unable to do so either because of disability or death. It is important that a caregiver is identified and is ready and willing to take the pet on relatively short notice. These temporary arrangements need not be in writing unless the owner feels that people are going to fight over who will care for the pet.

For example, if you and your siblings agree with your mother that Mary will take care of Fido, there is no need to put the arrangement in writing. However, if all of you want to take care of Fido, your mother should put her wishes in writing to avoid conflicts.

As for the long-term care of Fido after your mother’s passing and the cost of that care, I suggest that your mother include in her will a pet trust. When thinking about the provisions to include in the pet trust, your mother should not only consider who will care for Fido for the rest of his life but also whether the appointed caregiver has the resources to cover the costs associated with pet ownership.

Even if money is not an issue for the caregiver, your mother should confirm in advance that the caregiver’s living arrangements are suitable for Fido. Some apartment buildings and residential communities do not permit residents to own pets. If the caregiver of choice lives in such a community, or lives in a setting that is not large enough for Fido, your mother should consider naming someone else to adopt Fido after her death.

Once she has settled on a caregiver, your mother should think about the types of care she wants Fido to receive after she is gone. For example, does she want Fido groomed once a month or to have his teeth cleaned three times a year? Does she want Fido to be fed certain types of food? Does Fido suffer from any ailments that require medication or close monitoring? If so, these things should be addressed in the pet trust. If your mother has been using the same groomer and vet for years, she may want the caregiver to continue using the same providers. This is particularly important if Fido is receiving any specialized care or treatment. If this information is not included in the pet trust itself, your mother definitely should provide this information to the caregiver in a letter.

While the reason for including a pet trust in her will is to ensure that Fido will be cared for after she dies, it can also serve as a vehicle for providing the caregiver with instructions with respect to the handling of Fido’s remains after he dies. This information is important and useful to the caregiver who will certainly want to honor your mother’s wishes.

In addition to setting forth in the pet trust the name of the caregiver and the type of care she wants Fido to receive, both during his lifetime and upon death, your mother will need to allocate a certain amount of money to the trustee of the pet trust.

The job of the trustee is to distribute the funds in the trust to the caregiver as needed to be used for Fido’s benefit. The money will be used to pay for Fido’s food and care, but your mother can also allocate some of the money in the trust directly to the caregiver in recognition of the time, effort and responsibility he/she assumed by caring for Fido. If she wants, your mother can name the caregiver as trustee of the pet trust. She need not name two different people for these roles.

A final decision that your mother will have to make in connection with the pet trust is what happens to any of the funds left in the trust after Fido dies. Many people who have a pet trust direct that any money left in the trust after the death of their pet goes to the caregiver. Another popular arrangement is for the money to be donated to an organization that cares for abandoned and/or abused animals. Of course, your mother can also have the funds left in the pet trust divided between you and your siblings. Regardless of how she wants the funds distributed, it is important to include her wishes in the pet trust.

In light of the number of issues, your mother should discuss if she wants to create a pet trust, and the fact that it will be part of her will, with an experienced estate planning attorney. That is the best way to ensure that Fido will be cared for in accordance with her wishes.

Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of estate planning, probate, estate administration, litigation, wills, trusts, small business services and real estate from her East Setauket office.

There are many benefits to naming a minor as beneficiary of a tax-deffered retirement account.

By Nancy Burner, ESQ.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

Many of our clients have retirement assets held in a traditional IRA, 401K, 403(b) or other similar plan. It is important to periodically review the beneficiary designations on these types of plans. A review should confirm that the institution still has the proper designations on file, the clients’ wishes are being followed, the designations fit into the larger estate plan of the client and that the best interests of the beneficiaries are taken into account. This is of special concern if the beneficiaries are grandchildren or other minors.

There are certain benefits to leaving retirement assets to a minor who is a much younger beneficiary than the original account holder. When you leave retirement assets to a nonspouse, the beneficiary has the right to take it in an “inherited IRA.”

The beneficiary of an inherited IRA must start taking distributions the year after the death of the original account holder. These distributions are taken as a “stretch,” meaning they are determined by the life expectancy of the new IRA beneficiary. In that case, the account can grow tax deferred over a much longer life expectancy.

The rule of thumb is that the account will be worth approximately 30 times its value if distributions are taken over the life expectancy of a grandchild. For example, suppose you name your grandchild as beneficiary of an IRA account with a $100,000 balance. If your grandchild takes distributions based upon her life expectancy each year, then the account could be worth $3,000,000 over her lifetime. This is one of the great benefits of naming a minor as beneficiary of a tax-deferred retirement account.

The problem is that you cannot achieve the benefit of the stretch if you name a minor directly as the beneficiary of any account — you must name a trust for the benefit of the minor.

Since she is not an adult, the minor will be unable to take the distributions as required beginning the year after your death. The only way to access the account is for the court to appoint a guardian for the property of the child, usually the parent. First, this will be a costly and unnecessary proceeding. But the result is even worse.

The court will direct the guardian to distribute the entire IRA and pay the income tax. The income tax will be based upon the parents’ income if the child is under 14 years of age, also known as the “kiddie tax.”

In addition, the monies that are left after paying the income tax will be deposited in a bank account earning very little interest. If that isn’t bad enough, the account will be turned over to the child upon attaining the age of 18. This will obviously impact the child’s financial aid when he or she applies for college. This is a financial disaster. In addition to retirement accounts, you do not want to name minors directly as beneficiaries on IRA accounts, annuities, insurance policies, bank accounts or any other account. Any and all distributions for a minor should be distributed to a trust that is drafted for the benefit of the child.

The trust should be created as part of the estate plan, either through a last will and testament or in an inter vivos trust. Providing for the beneficiary’s share to go into a trust will ensure the benefits of inheriting a retirement asset are received.

The beneficiary can get the stretch on the account and the asset will not need to be held by the court. However, be certain that the trust you are naming for the benefit of the minor is drafted for the purpose of receiving retirement accounts; all trusts are not created equal in this respect. A trust must be properly drafted and meet certain requirements set by the IRS in order to accept the IRA distribution and receive the benefits described above.

Before naming a beneficiary on an account, one should check with the institution holding the account. Each plan has its own individual rules regarding the designation of beneficiaries. For example, the New York State Teacher’s Retirement system has certain benefits for which you can name a trust as beneficiary, while other benefits, including pensions, do not allow this type of beneficiary. Retirement savings can be the largest asset one leaves behind. Being sure it is properly designated can protect the best interests of your beneficiaries long after you are gone.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

A credit shelter trust is a marital trust that allows you to a voice having the same property taxed twice.

By Linda Toga

Linda Toga

THE FACTS: I had my will prepared years ago. The estate tax exclusion amount at the time was considerably less than it is now, so my will contains a provision that directs my executor to create a credit shelter trust to avoid estate taxes. The trust provision mandates that the credit shelter trust be funded with assets equal in value to the estate tax exemption amount in effect at the time of my death.

THE QUESTION: A friend told me the credit shelter trust language that is currently included in my will could result in only a small part of my estate, if any, passing directly to my wife. Is he correct?

THE ANSWER: Without knowing the size of your estate, it is impossible to say how much of your estate might pass directly to your spouse upon your death. That being said, your friend is correct.

Credit shelter trusts are designed to avoid estate tax, but tax avoidance is generally not an issue when the first spouse dies because the surviving spouse is most often the beneficiary of the deceased spouse’s estate.

Regardless of the value of the assets that pass to a surviving spouse as sole beneficiary, there will be no estate tax liability on the first death because both the federal and New York State tax codes include an unlimited marital deduction. That means the assets passing to the surviving spouse pass estate tax free.

In contrast, the value of assets passing to a nonspouse may trigger estate tax. That is why estate tax can become a problem when the surviving spouse dies. If the value of the surviving spouse’s estate exceeds the applicable estate tax exemption amount then in effect, estate tax will be due. This year the federal estate tax exemption is currently at $5.49 million and the New York State exclusion amount is currently at $5.25 million.

If your will directs that assets equal in value to the current estate tax exemption amount go into the credit shelter trust, over $5.2 million of your probate estate must be used to fund the trust. The actual dollar amount will depend on whether your will references the federal or the New York State exemption/exclusion amount. If the value of your assets does not exceed the exemption amount, the only assets passing directly to your spouse will be jointly held assets and assets on which she is a named beneficiary. Assets that are used to fund the trust will be available to your spouse under certain conditions. She will not have unfettered access to those funds.

Credit shelter trusts were very popular with my clients when the estate tax exclusion amounts were significantly smaller. In 2008, for example, when the federal estate tax exemption was $2 million, clients with estates valued at $3 to $4 million felt comfortable funding a credit shelter trust since the surviving spouse would still receive $1 to $2 million outright. However, since the exclusion amount has increased at a much faster rate than the value of most people’s estates, the language in many credit shelter trusts has become a problem.

One way to address the problem is to have a new will prepared that does not direct your executor to create a credit shelter trust. However, if you are concerned about estate tax liability, another option is to have a new will prepared that includes language limiting the value of the assets that must be used to fund a credit shelter trust. That way you can be sure that there are sufficient assets passing to your spouse outright.

A third option is to include a discretionary marital trust in your will, rather than a credit shelter trust. A disclaimer trust, for example, can be used by married couples to avoid estate taxes and has the advantage of allowing the surviving spouse to decide how much money will go into the trust. If the surviving spouse feels comfortable doing so, she can have the trust funded with assets equal in value to the applicable exclusion amount. However, she can also decide to fund the trust with a lesser amount or to not to fund the trust at all.

The surviving spouse has nine months to decide whether it makes sense taxwise to fund the trust. Because of the flexibility offered by disclaimer trusts, and the ability to essentially do post-mortem planning, many people whose estates are valued at over the exclusion amount find disclaimer trusts a good option. To figure out what would be best for you, you should discuss your situation with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of estate planning, probate, estate administration, litigation, wills, trusts, small business services and real estate from her East Setauket office.

Portrait of Elderly man lost in thought

By Nancy Burner, ESQ.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

Much of the estate planning discourse revolves around planning techniques for the married couple, whether it be for tax planning or asset protection planning. However, for seniors who have never married or for those whose spouse is deceased, what, if any, special considerations need to be made? This article will focus on some of the unique challenges that the unmarried senior may face.

For the single individual who is living with another person but is unmarried, planning should be done to specifically provide for that partner, if so desired. It is important to recognize that partners are not given rights to property the way spouses are. Even if a person has resided with another for decades, without proper estate planning, that partner will not be entitled to assets of the decedent. If the plan is to give property to a partner after death, one should make sure that they designate that partner as a joint owner or as a beneficiary.

Having a will that designates a partner as the beneficiary of the estate can also ensure that property passes to the partner. However, in order for the will to be carried out, it must go through probate.

In New York, the probate process includes notifying and obtaining the consent of the decedent’s heirs. For instance, if a single individual with no children dies, but the parents or siblings of that individual survive, consent must be obtained from those parents, or if deceased, the siblings.

If the family members do not consent, they have the opportunity to present objections to the will that leaves assets to the partner. If their objections are successful, the will is invalidated and the law of intestacy prevails, which assumes the deceased person would have wanted their estate to be distributed to their family members, and not their partner. If a potential conflict may arise between a partner and family members, planning to avoid probate should be a primary goal of the estate plan.

For the unmarried person who is “unattached” and does not have a close relationship with any relatives, avoidance of probate is likely also an important goal particularly if they are charitably inclined since consent of family members is still required even when the beneficiary of a will is a charity. In addition, singles who are living alone should consider planning techniques that will allow them to maximize their assets so that they can get long-term care.

Being cared for in old age is difficult enough when you have a spouse or partner to help you, but if you live alone, you’ll want to preserve assets and income to the fullest extent so that you can get the care you need. This may include looking into long-term care insurance or doing asset protection planning, or both!

What if a single person is living with a partner and is desirous of providing for that partner, but wishes for their estate to ultimately be distributed to other family members? It is very common that a widow or widower has a relationship with someone for whom they wish to provide but wants to ensure that their assets go to their children after both partners are deceased.

The best technique for implementing this kind of plan is to use a trust. Trusts can hold assets for the lifetime of the partner but distribute the assets to other family members after the partner’s death. Trusts also avoid probate so that potential contests are avoided. Depending on the type of trust utilized, trusts can also protect assets in case either partner needs Medicaid to pay for long-term care.

In addition to the foregoing considerations regarding leaving assets at death, it is equally important to remember that partners, friends or indeed family members do not have rights to make decisions without proper planning. An estate plan is not complete without comprehensive advance directives that allow loved ones to make health care and financial decisions for you if you are incapacitated.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

Make sure your attorney includes a 'common disaster' provision in your will.

By Linda Toga

THE FACTS: My father and sister perished in a plane crash under circumstances making it impossible to determine the order of death. My sister is survived by her spouse, Joe, and two children. My father’s will leaves his entire estate in equal shares to me and my sister, per stirpes. He was under the impression that his assets would pass to his grandchildren if anything happened to my sister. He was quite adamant that he did not want his assets to pass to Joe. My father’s will also includes a provision stating that if he and a beneficiary die in a common disaster, he would be deemed to have predeceased the beneficiary. My sister’s will leaves everything to Joe.

THE QUESTION: Joe claims that one-half of my father’s estate now passes to him through my sister’s estate and not to my sister’s children because my sister is deemed to have survived my father. Is that correct?

THE ANSWER: Unfortunately with respect to your father’s wishes, the answer is “yes.” As much as your father may have wanted his assets to pass to his grandchildren, as a result of the inclusion of the common disaster provision in his will, Joe will effectively inherit half of your father’s estate along with any assets your sister owned at the time of her death.

HOW IT WORKS: The provision in your father’s will concerning dying in a common disaster with a beneficiary controls here even though it appears to undermine your father’s wishes. Pursuant to that provision, your sister is deemed to have survived your father. That means that half of his assets will pass to your sister’s estate as if she were alive. The assets will then be distributed in accordance with her will. Since your sister’s will leaves everything to Joe, Joe will, in fact, be the beneficiary of the assets passing from your father’s estate to your sister’s estate.

The common disaster provision is one that is often ignored or misunderstood by clients. However, not giving the possible impact of the provision serious consideration when engaging in estate planning is a mistake that can clearly lead to unintended consequences.

If your father wanted to be sure that his assets would not end up in Joe’s hands, the order of death set forth in the common disaster provision of his will should have been reversed. In other words, the common disaster provision in his will should have stated that in the event he died along with a beneficiary under circumstances that made it impossible to determine the order of death, he would be deemed to have survived the beneficiary.

Under that scenario, your sister would be deemed to have predeceased your father. This, in turn, would trigger the per stirpes language in the will that basically provides that if a named beneficiary predeceases the testator, the share of the estate allocated to the predeceased beneficiary will pass to that beneficiary’s children.

The end result of having your father survive your sister would be that the share of your father’s estate allocated to your sister would not be distributed to her estate but would have passed directly to her children.

Since your father’s assets would not have been included in your sister’s estate, they would not be distributed to Joe. Your sister’s wishes as to the distribution of her estate to Joe would be honored since he would still inherit the assets that were owned by your sister at the time of her death. At the same time, your father’s wish that his grandchildren be the beneficiaries of his estate would have been fulfilled.

Issues like the one created by the competing provisions in your father’s will highlight the need to work with an experienced estate planning attorney and illustrate the importance of asking questions to ensure that you understand fully the implications and consequences of every provision in your will.

Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of estate planning, probate, estate administration, litigation, wills, trusts, small business services and real estate from her East Setauket office.

Defendants from Port Jeff, Mount Sinai, Coram, among those indicted

Stock photo

In a plot that could have been lifted straight from the script of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” six North Shore residents were among 14 indicted in federal court in Brooklyn July 13 for their alleged roles in a $147 million stock manipulation scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

A press release regarding the indictment alleged the defendants defrauded investors by obtaining shares in five publicly traded companies from insiders at the companies for below-market prices, artificially drove up the prices of the shares, while “aggressively and repeatedly” calling and emailing victims to purchase shares — oftentimes senior citizens — and then sold their own shares between January 2014 and July 2017.

“Manipulating stock prices, as alleged in this case, to appear more attractive to investors, is a deliberate attempt at sabotaging fair market trading,” Assistant Director-in-Charge for the FBI’s New York field office William Sweeney Jr. said in a statement. Sweeney and acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde read the indictments. “Manipulation, at its core, is a true act of deception, especially when the elderly are targeted. This scheme involved an incredible amount of money, more than $147 million. That’s no small change for even the savviest investor. As evidenced by our arrests today, we take these matters seriously, and will continue to pursue those who make victims out of unwitting participants in these schemes.”

Managers of My Street Research — a Melville based investment firm — Erik Matz, 44, of Mount Sinai and Ronald Hardy, 42, of Port Jefferson were among those indicted. They also engaged in a scheme to launder about $14.7 million in proceeds obtained as a result of the scheme, according to Rohde’s office. The government restrained Matz’s Mount Sinai home and seized bank accounts containing alleged criminally obtained money. The attorney representing Matz and Hardy did not respond to a request for comment. A phone message requesting comment from My Street Research was not returned.

Dennis Verderosa, 67, and Emin L. Cohen, 33, both of Coram, and McArthur Jean, 34, of Dix Hills were among those listed as “cold-callers” for the operation.

Cohen’s and Verderosa’s attorneys each declined to comment via email. Jean’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Robert Gilbert, 51, of Cold Spring Harbor and owner of the investment firm Accredited Investor Preview was also among the 14 people indicted.

“We’re still studying the indictment, but Mr. Gilbert is mentioned substantively in only one paragraph,” Gilbert’s attorney Ira Sorkin said in a phone interview. “He has not been incarcerated, and there is no claim any of his assets have been frozen as is the case with some of the others. Until we have a chance to read further into the indictment we will have no further comment.”

The five companies whose stocks were pushed by the “pump-and-dump” scheme were National Waste Management Holdings, Inc., CES Synergies, Inc., Grilled Cheese Truck,  Hydrocarb Energy Corporation and Intelligent Content Enterprises, Inc.

Editor’s note: Anyone victimized by the alleged scheme can contact the writer of this story via email at alex@tbrnewspapers.com

By Linda Toga, Esq.

THE FACTS: After my mother’s death, my father met a woman, Mary, who was his partner for many years. They lived in my father’s house, which has a value in excess of $3 million. In his will my father left the house to Mary. He also named Mary as the beneficiary of his life insurance policy, which has a death benefit in excess of $2 million. He left his residuary estate to me and my sister. However, the will states that any estate taxes that may be owed are to come out of his residuary estate. My concern is that paying the estate taxes will likely deplete the residuary estate, leaving my sister and me with nothing.

THE QUESTION: Is there some way we can compel Mary to pay the estate tax from the funds she is receiving? It does not seem fair that we may be paying the taxes on the assets which she will be enjoying.

THE ANSWER: Since your father clearly intended for you and your sister to be beneficiaries of his estate, it appears that he may not have understood which of his assets would be considered in calculating his estate’s tax liability.

If, for example, your father and Mary were married at the time of his death, the value of the assets passing to Mary would be excluded from the value of the estate used to calculate the estate tax liability. That is because there is an unlimited marital deduction that applies when determining whether or not federal or New York state estate tax is due.

It is possible that your father believed the exclusion would apply based upon the fact that he and Mary were living together as husband and wife. Unfortunately for you and your sister, the taxing authorities do not see it that way.

Another possibility is that your father assumed that the death benefit from his life insurance policy would not be included in his gross estate for estate tax purposes. That is a common misconception that often leads to an unexpected tax liability.

Estate taxes are calculated based upon the value of all the assets owned or controlled by an individual at the time of death. Since your father could have changed the beneficiary listed on his life insurance policy up until the time of his death, he had “control” over the $2 million death benefit. For that reason, the value of the death benefit is included in his estate for purposes of calculating the estate tax owed.

It is noteworthy that some people actually buy life insurance so that the death benefit can be used to cover the estate taxes that may be assessed against their estates. By doing so, the decedent provides his beneficiaries with liquid assets that can be used to pay any estate taxes that are assessed against the estate. This, in turn, eliminates the possibility that the beneficiaries may need to sell estate assets just to pay the estate tax.

Even if your father was aware of how the estate tax would be calculated, he may not have realized that his will dictated that all of the taxes be paid from his residuary estate. If that fact had been explained to your father, he may have chosen to apportion the estate tax liability between all of the beneficiaries of his estate.

By apportioning the taxes that were due, Mary would be responsible for the taxes attributed to the value of the house, for example. That would have certainly decreased the amount of taxes being paid from the residuary estate earmarked for you and your sister.

In light of the fact that your father’s will does not provide for the apportionment of the estate, the full tax liability will be paid from the residuary estate unless Mary is willing to pay some or all of the estate tax assessed against your father’s estate. If she is not willing, there is nothing the executor of the estate can do but pay the taxes in accordance with the provisions of the will.

The amount of the estate tax due from your father’s estate will depend on when your father died since the exclusion amount on both the federal and New York state estate tax has been increasing annually for a number of years.

Since April, 2017, the exclusion amount for both federal and New York state estate tax exceeds $5.2 million. Even without apportionment, there is a chance that no estate tax will be due unless the value of your father’s estate exceeds the current exclusion amounts. If it does not, the full amount of the residuary estate will pass to you and your sister without any tax liability.

Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of estate planning, probate, estate administration, litigation, wills, trusts, small business services and real estate from her East Setauket office.

A common concern is that after paying premiums on a long-term care policy for years, it will never be accessed for care. Stock photo

By Nancy Burner, ESQ.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

With the ever-changing health care landscape both federally and on a state level, and the aging of the baby boomers, it may be time to take a second look at long-term care insurance. Historically, New York State residents have had the opportunity to receive long-term care benefits through the Medicaid program.

New York has been one of the most generous states in providing care for disabled and aged residents. But you do not have to be a health care expert to see that state and federal budgets are threatening to curtail Medicaid benefits, and many current programs cannot be relied upon to provide the same amount of care that they have in the past.

To battle these changes, a proper estate plan should provide an arsenal to protect against catastrophic health care costs. It is often advisable to consider all available resources when putting together a long-term care estate plan.

We do not have a crystal ball that will show the future of Medicaid or what the needs of each individual will be. But we do know that the baby boomers represent a critical mass of individuals moving toward unprecedented longevity.

In addition, we know that a large percentage of these individuals living longer will likely need care. Further, while many baby boomers and their relatives traditionally cared for aging parents, the economics facing future generations shows that third-party caregivers will be the norm, not the exception.

For clients facing these looming questions of who will provide care, where will the care be provided and how will it be paid for, long-term care insurance is one possible solution. Prudent estate planning may require putting together a team of professionals to help make decisions to protect your assets and autonomy, regardless of what the future holds. This team may include an elder law attorney, financial advisor and an insurance professional. Working together, they can provide you with options for protecting assets to avail yourself of public benefits, preserving and growing assets and purchasing insurance products that make sense in your plan.

Long-term care insurance can often pay for home care assistance or the cost of a nursing facility. If you start accessing your long-term care benefit while living at home and then transition into a nursing facility, the proper planning could make a huge difference in the amount paid toward the cost of care.

Also, many individuals do estate/elder law planning by creating irrevocable trusts, which commences the five-year look-back period for Medicaid nursing home care. They purchase long-term care insurance to cover the initial five-syear period.

Some clients find themselves in a position where they have high income and therefore fear that they will never qualify for Medicaid. Some have income that exceeds the lower Medicaid rate charged by the facility. This leaves them in the dubious position of not qualifying for Medicaid and therefore forced to pay the higher private pay rate.

Needless to say, current daily rates for nursing home care can be financially ruinous. Fortunately, there is a federal law that states that if an individual is eligible for Medicaid but for the fact that their monthly income exceeds the Medicaid rate at the nursing facility, the facility must allow that individual to pay privately at the Medicaid rate. This offers a large savings in the cost of nursing care; and, in the final analysis, the individual is never a Medicaid recipient.

The income of the individual can include Social Security payments, pensions, distributions from retirement assets, payouts on a long-term care policy, etc. With proper long-term care planning, the assets could be protected in an irrevocable Medicaid asset protection trust while the income is being used to pay for the facility.

While many will need long-term care in their lifetime, not everyone will require prolonged care. A common concern is that after paying premiums on a long-term care policy for years, it will never be accessed for care. It’s the age-old problem of paying for insurance that they hope they will never use. This creates a mental bias against insurance to pay for that kind of care.

Individuals prefer to believe that they will never need long-term care. For those with this concern, there are new policies commonly referred to as “hybrid policies.” These are life insurance policies with a long-term care rider attached. In this way, you can access the policy to cover the cost of care while living, but heirs can receive a death benefit if it is not used up. Some polices also allow the insured to cancel the policy and receive their investment back at any time.

The bottom line is that the landscape is ever changing, the assumptions we relied upon have changed, and if you plan on living long, you need to live and plan smarter. Maybe it’s time to reconsider long-term care insurance. If you can qualify medically and you can afford it, it may be just another necessary tool in your arsenal of weapons for “aging in place” and with autonomy. It may not be for everyone but it could be right for you. Take a second look.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

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