Authors Posts by Nancy Burner Esq., CELA

Nancy Burner Esq., CELA


By Nancy Burner, Esq.

In December 2014 the federal government passed a law known as the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, also known as the ABLE Act. This law allows family members of a disabled person to create an account that is exempt from federal income tax to be used for certain “qualified expenses” related to the person’s disability. This act is created under the same provisions of the tax code as 529 plans for college savings although they have different rules governing the plans.

Unlike the college savings plans, the beneficiary of the New York ABLE Act accounts must have been deemed disabled prior to 26 years old. If a beneficiary is entitled to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), they are automatically eligible. However, if they are not entitled to these sources of income, there are other methods of proving disability that will establish eligibility. The account can be created by any person, and the owner can be the beneficiary or their parent, legal guardian or representative of that beneficiary.

However, it is important to note that there is a maximum contribution of $14,000 annually, the federal gift tax exemption amount. Each beneficiary can only have one ABLE account created for their benefit. This could create an unintended tax liability if there is no coordination among the persons that wish to contribute to the account. ABLE accounts are meant to supplement the government benefits that a disabled person is receiving. In New York, ABLE account funds are not counted as a resource at all for Medicaid eligibility for the disable beneficiary of the account. For an individual who is receiving SSI, the account is not considered a resource as long as it is below $100,000.

The benefit of having an account like this is that the disabled individual can access the account on their own without requesting a distribution from a trustee as they would have to do with a supplemental needs trust. The accounts can be used to pay for “qualified expenses,” including but not limited to education, transportation, training, legal fees, etc. The expense must be one that is related to the person’s disability and provides them with a resource that will improve their health, independence or quality of life. If the funds are misappropriated to an expense that does not fall into this category, there is a 10 percent penalty and the full amount of the nonqualified expense will be deemed an available asset for Medicaid or SSI eligibility purposes.

Upon the death of the account beneficiary, there is a payback to the Medicaid program for services rendered. This payback includes services to the beneficiary starting on the date the account was created. If a beneficiary received services for 20 years before the account was created, there is no payback to Medicaid for the prior 20 years of services.

The ABLE Act provides a new and creative vehicle for disabled persons to have access to additional assets while maintaining their government benefits. However, these accounts are, in most cases, a supplement to traditional planning for persons with disabilities. If a beneficiary has multiple persons that wish to leave assets to them that may exceed $14,000 per year in contributions or $100,000 in total, a supplemental needs trust will be more beneficial than the ABLE account. Money that is contributed to a disabled person from a third party can go into a trust that does not require payback to the Medicaid program. If funds are given outright to the disabled person who subsequently places it into a trust, this is considered a first-party supplemental needs trust and it also requires a payback to Medicaid.

New York State signed the ABLE Act into law in December 2015. However, these accounts are not yet available to New York State residents. While the state says they may be available at the end of 2016, there is no set date for the program launch.

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

By Nancy Burner, ESQ.

It is not unusual for a client to contact me and ask to review their estate plan. This may be precipitated by a recent diagnosis or simply by the passage of time. I have a checklist that I use when reviewing an estate plan if they have a taxable estate. Under federal law, a taxable estate in 2016 is any estate over $5.45 million and in New York State any estate over $4,187,500.

• The annual gift tax exclusion is $14,000, which means the client can make annual gifts of $14,000 to any individual. The gift must be completed before the donor dies; therefore, the check must not only be delivered but also cashed before the donor’s death. High basis assets such as cash are excellent lifetime gifts. The donee takes the tax basis of the lifetime gifted asset; but assets in the estate receive a “step-up” in basis. Therefore, it is best to leave the highly appreciated real estate or Apple stock in the estate.

• The client could also pay any medical or educational expenses for any individual. The payments must be made directly to the institution or the medical provider. The college or university will even allow the tuition to be prepaid for the entire four years. The payment must be irrevocable and made to a qualified educational organization.

• It may also be prudent to make taxable gifts before the client dies if the estate exceeds the federal gift tax exemption amount. While the gift tax on lifetime gifts is 40 percent and the estate tax is also 40 percent, a gift during life is tax exclusive while the estate tax is tax on the entire estate and is therefore tax inclusive.

For example, if a parent gives a child $1 million as a lifetime gift, using the 40 percent federal marginal tax rate, the gift tax would be $400,000 ($1,000,000 times 40 percent). The child receives $1 million and the parent pays gift tax of $400,000. It costs $400,000 to gift $1 million. If the parent does not make the lifetime gift, the estate tax on the $1 million gift would be $666,667 even though the rate is the same 40 percent. It costs $266,667 more to make the same gift because the entire estate is taxed before the $1 million goes to the child ($1,666,667 times 40 percent is $666,667 taxes and $1 million bequest). If the gift is made within 3 years of death, it comes back into the estate for estate tax purposes.

• The three-year rule is important with respect to New York State estate taxes as well. Any gifts made more than three years before the decedent’s death will not be included in the estate and will not reduce the New York State exemption amount available at death. So, for example, if a client had a $5,187,500 estate in 2013 and gifts $1 million to his beneficiary more than three years before his death, the $1 million gift would not reduce his New York State exemption of $4,187,500.

• New York also has a “cliff.” What this means is if a decedent’s estate exceeds the exemption by more than 5 percent, then the estate does not benefit from the exemption and the entire estate would be subject to New York State estate tax. The strategy would be to reduce the estate below that cliff so that the entire estate would not be subject to New York State estate tax. For example, if Mom dies on April 30, 2016, with a taxable estate of $4.3 million, the New York State estate tax would be $216,959. If she made a lifetime charitable gift of $112,500, the estate would have been reduced to $4,187,500 and the estate would save $216,959 in estate tax.

• In situations where the client has done sophisticated estate planning such as sales to defective grantor trusts, I advise the client to pay off the note prior to death. This makes the estate simpler and may avoid challenges by the IRS claiming that the sale and promissory note transaction was a transfer with a retained interest. Better to pay off the loan and avoid the challenge.

• Of course, whether there is a taxable estate or not, I always ask clients to review the named fiduciaries in the estate and make sure that they have chosen the best people for the job. Circumstances may have changed and it does not hurt to revisit their choices. • If the clients have revocable trusts, this is also a good time to make sure that the assets have been transferred to the trust and all retirement funds have named beneficiaries. Clients should make sure that they have copies of all beneficiary forms as the onus will be on the beneficiary to prove that they are a named designated beneficiary if the designation is somehow lost.

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

By Nancy Burner, Esq.

In my practice as an elder law attorney, clients often inquire about the benefits of gifting to reduce taxes or to qualify for Medicaid. As a senior with the unexpected need for long-term care in the future, the consequences of gifting may have unexpected results.

It is a common myth that everyone should be gifting monies during their life to avoid taxation later. Currently, a person can give away during life or die with $5.45 million before any federal estate tax is due. For married couples, this means that so long as your estate is less than $10.9 million, federal estate taxes are not a problem. For New York State estate tax, the current exemption is $4.1875 million and is currently slated to reach the federal estate tax exemption by 2019.

While it is true that there are gifting estate plans that can reduce estate taxes, any gift that exceeds the annual gift exclusion must be reported on a gift tax return during the decedent’s life and is deducted from their lifetime exemption. In 2016, that exclusion is $14,000. However, while gifting may be good if the goal is to reduce estate tax, it can be detrimental if the donor needs Medicaid to cover the cost of long-term care within five years of any gifts.

It is important to remember that the $14,000 only refers to the annual gift tax exclusion under the Internal Revenue Code. The Medicaid rules and regulations are different. In New York, Medicaid requires that all applicants and their spouses account for transfers made in the five years prior to applying for Institutional Medicaid. These gifts are totaled, and for each $12,633 that was gifted, one month of Medicaid ineligibility is imposed for Long Island applicants. It is also important to note that the ineligibility begins to run on the day that the applicant enters the nursing home and is “otherwise eligible for Medicaid” rather than on the day that the gift was made.

For example, if a grandfather gifted $100,000 over the course of five years to his grandchildren and then needed nursing home care, those gifts would be considered transfers and, if they cannot be returned, would create a period of ineligibility for Medicaid benefits for approximately eight months. What makes this even more difficult for some families is that an inability to give the money back or help the grandfather pay for his care is not taken into consideration, causing many families great hardship.

It would have been far better for the grandfather to have put assets into a Medicaid-qualified trust five years ago to start the period of ineligibility and allow the trustee to make the annual gifts. Another concern when gifting is considering to whom you are gifting? Once a gift is made to a person, it becomes subject to their creditors, legal status and can adversely affect their government benefits.

Accordingly, if you make a gift to a person who has creditors or who later gets a divorce, that gift could be lost to those debts. Consider creating a trust for the benefit of the debtor-beneficiary to ensure that their monies are protected. Another problem arises when making gifts to minors. Because a minor cannot hold property, if gifted substantial sums, someone would have to be appointed as the guardian of the property for that child before the funds could be used.

To avoid this problem, consider creating a trust for the minor beneficiary and designate a trustworthy trustee who will manage the money for the minor until they are old enough to manage it themselves.

Finally, if gifting to a disabled beneficiary, make sure to review what government benefits they may be receiving. If any of the benefits are “needs based,” even small gifts may disqualify them for their benefits. In order to maintain eligibility, a Supplemental Needs Trust could be created to preserve benefits for the disabled beneficiary.

A common phrase comes to mind “do not try this at home.” Before doing any kind of substantial gifting, or even if you have begun gifting, see an elder law attorney who concentrates their practice in Medicaid and estate planning to help optimize your chances of qualifying for Medicaid and/or reduce estate taxes, while still preserving the greatest amount of assets.

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

By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Consider this scenario: An individual executes a will in 1995. The will leaves all of his personal property (household furnishings and other personal effects), to his friend who is also the named executor. The rest of his estate he leaves to his two sisters. When he died in 2012, his two sisters had predeceased him. There were no other individuals named as beneficiaries of the will.

The executor brought a petition requesting that the court construe the decedent’s will so that she would inherit the entire estate as the only living beneficiary in the will. The executor stated that the decedent intended to change his will to name her as the sole beneficiary, but he died before he signed the new will. There was also an unwitnessed handwritten will that left his entire estate to the executor.

The court held that the testator’s intent to give his residuary estate to his two sisters was unambiguous. Having failed to anticipate, at the time that the will was executed, that his two sisters would predecease him, the court was not allowed to find that the decedent intended a gift of the residuary estate to his friend, the executor.

The court held that there were limitations on its ability to rewrite the decedent’s will to accomplish the outcome sought by the executor. Since the executor was only named as the beneficiary of personal effects, she could not inherit the rest of his estate. This is because the sisters predeceased him and they had no children, the will failed to name a contingent beneficiary.

The result was that the individuals who would have inherited had he died without a will would inherit. In the case at hand he had a distant cousin (to whom he never intended to leave anything) who was entitled to inherit all of his residuary estate. If the decedent had no other known relatives, his residuary estate would have escheated to New York State at the conclusion of the administration of the estate.

What it is important to realize here is how crucial it is to review and update your estate planning documents regularly. This is especially true after experiencing a significant life event such as a birth, death, marriage and/or divorce. You want your documents to reflect your intentions as they are today, not as they were 20 or 30 years ago.

If you are an unmarried person, with no children, living parents or siblings and your only relatives are aunts, uncles and/or cousins with whom you do not have close relationships, you especially want to make sure you have estate planning documents in place to avoid intestacy and having these relatives inherit by default. With these family circumstances, you also want to consider avoiding probate all together with a revocable or irrevocable trust.

If you have missing relatives, the nominated executor would have the burden of finding your aunts, uncles and/or cousins wherever they may be located to obtain their consent to the probate of your will. This can be expensive in both time and money. If these relatives cannot be found, the court will require a citation to be issued to these unknown relatives and a guardian ad litem will be appointed to investigate the execution of the will on their behalf. This is another layer of added expense and delay to the probate process, and a good reason to avoid it.

Whether you have a will or a trust, you want to be sure to review and update it regularly to make sure that your designated beneficiaries are still living. In a situation such as the scenario above, you also want to pay special attention to your contingent beneficiaries. The contingent beneficiaries take precedence if a primary beneficiary has predeceased. If you are unsure about naming contingent beneficiaries at the time you execute your will or trust, you may want to consider choosing a charity or allowing your executor/trustee to choose a charity for a cause you care about as a contingent beneficiary. This way, no matter what happens, your estate does not escheat to New York State.

The takeaway from the scenario above is how crucial it is to regularly review and update your estate planning documents. You want to be sure that whoever you want to inherit at your death, actually inherits your property.

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

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By Nancy Burner, ESQ.

Many people who own real property, whether it is a family home or a vacation home, have a common estate planning goal: protect the house and transfer it to the next generation.

One way to transfer real property to your beneficiaries during your life is to execute a deed with a life estate. For the owner, this means that you will retain the right to live in the home until your death, but upon your demise, the property will be fully owned by your beneficiaries. Because you retained a lifetime interest in the property, you would still be able to claim any exemptions with respect to the property.

There are several benefits to executing a deed with a life estate. First, it is easy and relatively inexpensive. Because the property is a transfer, it will start the look-back period for Medicaid. For nursing home care, the transfer must be more than five years prior to your application for coverage. There is no look-back period for home care, so the property would be considered “unavailable” in the month after the transfer. Moreover, when you pass away, the beneficiaries will get a “step-up” in basis that will eliminate or lessen capital gains tax due if they did sell the property. 

However, the negative aspects to this kind of transfer typically outweigh its benefits. The first is loss of control. Once you have transferred the deed to your beneficiaries, they own it. If you wanted to sell the property or change who received it, you would have to get the permission of those to whom you initially transferred the property. If one of your beneficiaries dies before you, their estate will own a piece of your house. If their estate pays to their spouse, you could have in-laws owning your property when you would have preferred that share to go to the decedent’s children.

Lastly, if the property is sold during your lifetime, you may incur a capital gains tax. When a person sells their primary residence, they receive a $250,000.00 exemption, which means that a tax would only be imposed if the gain on the property was more than $250,000.00. However, when your ownership interest is a life estate, you do not get the full $250,000.00 and therefore may inadvertently incur a tax. For Medicaid purposes, if the house is sold, your interest in the property will be valued and what was once an exempt asset will convert to cash. If this cash amount plus what you already have exceeds the Medicaid asset limit, currently $14,850.00, you would be ineligible for Medicaid.

Another way to transfer real property at death is to create a last will and testament with specific provisions with respect to that property. For instance: “My Executor shall distribute my real property located at 1 Smith Street, Smithsville, New York, to my children, in equal shares.” This means that upon your death, your executor would probate your will in Surrogate’s Court and once they receive approval from the court, they could effectuate the transfer to your children as desired.

The benefit to this kind of planning is that you retain complete control over the property until your death. The downside is that it provides no asset protection and your beneficiaries would have to wait until the probate process is completed before they received the real property.

Moreover, any disinherited heirs would have the opportunity to object to your will. If you have children and are treating them equally, then this would not be a concern, but for those who are treating children unequally or for those who do not have children and are leaving property to a nonfamily member, a traditional will may not be the best option.

The last way to devise real property is through a trust. While there are many different types of trust, for the purposes of this article we can divide them into two categories: revocable vs. irrevocable trusts. A revocable trust allows the creator to maintain complete control over the property in the trust, whereas an irrevocable trust typically limits your access to the property and forces you to designate someone other than yourself (or your spouse) as the trustee. All trusts avoid the probate process. Similar to a will, the property would continue for your benefit during your life and would not transfer to the beneficiaries until after your death.

In addition to avoidance of probate, irrevocable Medicaid trusts protect the property in case you need Medicaid to cover the cost of long-term care in the future as transfers to irrevocable Medicaid trusts begin the five-year look-back period even though you maintain control over the asset. This control is in the form of the ability to change your trustee and your beneficiaries any time. The house can be sold at any time and a successor property purchased without incurring any negative tax consequences.

The biggest negative to the trust is the cost to set it up. Typically, attorneys charge more to prepare a trust than a simple will or deed transfer.

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

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

The Question:

My mom has been a recipient of Community Medicaid. As her condition is deteriorating, it is apparent that she will require long-term care in a nursing facility. I have heard that her Community Medicaid will pay for the nursing facility. Is that correct?

The Answer:

No, Community Medicaid will not pay for long-term care in a nursing home. Community Medicaid is the program that covers care at home; such has a personal care aide. Chronic Medicaid is the program that covers nursing home care. The requirements and application process for Community Medicaid and Chronic Medicaid are very different. An individual is unable to receive both Community and Chronic Medicaid simultaneously, so it is important to know the differences and make sure you have the correct Medicaid in effect.    

For 2016, an individual applying for Community Medicaid can have no more than $14,850, not including their home, in resources and no more than $845 per month in income. Qualified funds such as IRAs or 401(K)s are exempt, but the applicant is required to take periodic distributions that are counted as income each month.

While these limitations may seem daunting, the good news about Community Medicaid is that there is no look-back period and the individual can opt to use a pooled trust to preserve any excess income above the $845. That means someone looking to get care at home can transfer assets and set up a pooled trust in one month and be eligible for Community Medicaid in the following month.

This is much different than Chronic Medicaid. For 2016, an individual applying for Chronic Medicaid can have no more than $14,850 in resources, including a home, and no more than $50 per month in income. There is no pooled trust option to protect the excess income.

Like Community Medicaid, qualified funds such as IRAs or 401(K)s are exempt, but the applicant is required to take periodic distributions that are counted as income each month.

Chronic Medicaid has a five-year look-back. The look-back refers to the period of time that the Department of Social Services will review your assets and any transfers that you have made. To the extent that the applicant has made transfers or has too many assets in their name to qualify, they will be ineligible for Medicaid.

However, there are some exempt transfers that the applicant can make that will not render them ineligible. If transfers were done in order to qualify the individual for Community Medicaid, those same transfers may pose an issue for a Chronic Medicaid application. 

Due to the differences in Community and Chronic Medicaid requirements and regulations, it is imperative to consult with an expert.

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

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

The typical Medicaid trust is a grantor trust for income and estate tax purposes. The grantor trust rules came about after high earners tried to lower their income tax consequence by scattering their income to various trusts over which they maintained control. By spreading their income out, the earners were subject to the lower tax brackets since each trust was considered a separate entity, rather than all the income being taxed to one individual.

Eventually, the IRS caught on to this technique and the grantor trust rules were born. The grantor rules state that if the grantor, that is, the creator of the trust, maintains certain “strings” of control over the trust, such as the right to principal or the right to change the beneficiaries, then all the income from said trusts must be reported on the grantor’s individual tax return.

In addition, the IRS imposed compressed tax rates for trusts. For instance, in 2016 once the income of a trust exceeds $12,500.00, the trust is taxed at the highest tax bracket of 39.6 percent. An individual would have to earn $415,050 to reach that rate. Similarly, a trust can be a grantor trust for estate tax purposes. This would mean that despite the fact that the grantor transferred assets to an irrevocable trust during their life, if they retain certain rights under the terms of the trust, the assets are still includible in their estate for estate tax purposes.

While this combination of new rules from the IRS does not help to lower income or estate tax, it provided for the perfect vehicle for Medicaid planning. Nursing Home Medicaid imposes a penalty for any transfers made within the 5 years prior to the date of the application. If assets are transferred to a trust, the trust must be irrevocable and must provide that the grantor has no right to principal in order for Medicaid to consider the asset unavailable for eligibility purposes. Individuals interested in Medicaid planning were anxious to protect assets but did not want to give up complete control of their assets, nor did they want to incur any negative tax treatment. The grantor trust rules solved those concerns.

While Medicaid does prevent the trust from returning principal to the grantor, the grantor can still receive any income earned in the trust, can retain the right to reside in any real property in the trust and can change the trustee or beneficiaries at any time.

Moreover, because the grantor retains the right to reside in any real property in the trust, the grantor is still entitled to any real property tax exemptions and still receive their $250,000 capital gains exemption if the property is sold.

As mentioned above, if properly drafted, a grantor trust will provide that any income generated within the trust will be reported on the creator’s individual tax return, thus eliminating the possibility of a compressed tax rate.

Additionally, since the assets are still includible in the grantor’s estate when they pass away, there will be a 100 percent step-up in cost basis equal to the fair market value as of the date of their death. This means that if a grantor purchased her home for $30,000.00 in 1980, the property will be re-assessed upon her death to the fair market value. Therefore, when the beneficiaries sell the property there will be no capital gains tax incurred.

Not all trusts are created equal. If you are considering a Medicaid trust, consult with an elder law attorney in your area to learn more.

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

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Each January, the governor of the State of New York puts out a proposed budget from which the legislative and executive branches will base their negotiations to determine a final budget.  The budget is set to be passed by March 31; the date that marks the end of the fiscal year for the state. Just as in years before, our state legislature is in the process of reviewing the proposed budget.

There are several proposals in the budget that, if passed, will have an impact on the Medicaid program as we know it in New York State. Specifically, two in particular will affect married couples in need of care. 

For the 27th year there is a proposal that “spousal refusal” be abolished in the home care Medicaid setting. Spousal refusal is the mechanism by which the spouse of a Medicaid applicant can maintain a Community Spouse Resource Allowance (CSRA) of assets above the Medicaid level as long as the spouse receiving Medicaid maintains assets below the permissible amount of $14,850.00. 

The removal of this provision from our program would not only apply to spouses but to other “legally responsible relatives” including the parents of children in need of the Medicaid program to help pay for the cost of care. The fear of losing the spousal refusal option is that this will force individuals to put a child or spouse in a nursing home in order to maintain enough assets to support themselves or force divorce or separation. 

Compounding the issue of the loss of spousal refusal in the home care setting is the proposal to reduce the CSRA to $23,844.00. Currently, the law in New York states that a spouse can have up to $74,820.00 while the federal maximum is $119,220.00.  Many fear that reducing the CSRA would make it difficult for couples to have a large enough emergency fund, putting them one leaky roof or flooded basement away from impoverishment. 

Oftentimes, the spouse requiring Medicaid may live a long life beyond that of their sick spouse. The loss of these two important parts of our Medicaid program will force the healthy spouse to spend all of their money on the sick spouse and be left without assets to take care of his or her own needs.

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

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Question: I would like to protect my home by transferring it to my children but am concerned about losing my tax exemption. Is there a way that I can protect my home while still maintaining my exemptions?

Answer: Yes there is. For many of our clients, without the property tax exemptions that they receive, staying in their homes would be a hardship. When faced with the decision of either protecting that home or potentially losing the exemptions, the decision is not an easy one. 

The good news is that you can get the asset protection you desire while still maintaining your tax exemptions.  One way to achieve this is with an irrevocable trust, oftentimes referred to as a Medicaid protection trust. These trusts enable our clients to maintain a certain level of control and beneficial ownership over their home while garnering the same potential asset protection that they would achieve through an outright transfer.   

The way this works is that you as the owner of the property would create a trust; you are the grantor, sometimes referred to as the settlor. You would name a third party (anyone other than your spouse) to act as trustee, and the trust would also provide for distribution at the time of your death to your named beneficiaries. Oftentimes, the trustee and the beneficiaries are one and the same.

Once you transfer the home (or any other nonretirement assets) into the trust, the “clock” begins to run for the purpose of asset protection in the context of Medicaid planning. As you may know, in New York State, we currently have a five-year look back when applying for Chronic Care Medicaid, which means that once assets have been transferred into a properly drafted irrevocable trust and five years has passed, they are no longer countable resources when applying for Medicaid. 

The trust is considered a grantor trust for tax purposes, meaning that the grantor is still considered the owner for tax purposes. Because the grantor retains certain rights with respect to lifetime use of the properties in the trust, the grantor is permitted to maintain any tax benefits associated with ownership of the property, including the Enhanced STAR benefit, veteran’s benefit and any capital gains exemptions they would otherwise be eligible to receive.   

Contrast that with a decision to transfer the property outright to your children for the purpose of protecting the asset, which would result in a total loss of all preferential tax treatment. 

Transferring your home or any nonretirement assets into an irrevocable trust offers flexibility in planning, maintenance in any current tax exemptions and complete asset protection. To determine if an irrevocable trust is appropriate, you should consult an elder law expert in your area.

Nancy Burner, Esq. has practiced elder law and estate planning for over 25 years.

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

The New York State estate tax exclusion amount will be increasing again as of April 1, 2016, to $4,187,500. This is an increase from the $3,125,000 exclusion amount that has been in effect since April 1, 2015. As of Jan. 1, 2016, the federal estate tax exclusion is $5,450,000.

The New York State estate tax exclusion will increase again on April 1, 2017, to $5,250,000. This exclusion amount will remain in effect until Dec. 31, 2018. On Jan. 1, 2019, the basic exclusion amount will be indexed for inflation annually and will be equal to the federal exclusion amount. The New York State and federal exclusion amount is estimated to be $5,900,000 in 2019.

An item still of particular concern to many is the “cliff” language contained in the law. If the estate is valued between 100 and 105 percent of the exclusion amount, the amount over the exclusion will be taxed. As of April 1, 2016, the 105 percent amount is $4,396,875. However, once an estate exceeds the exclusion amount by more than 5 percent, not just the amount in excess of the exclusion amount is taxed, but, rather, the entire estate is subject to estate tax.

Practically, this means that taxable estates greater than 105 percent of the exclusion amount receive no benefit from the exclusion amounts shown above and will pay the same tax that would have been paid under the prior estate tax law.

New York repealed its gift tax in 2000.  This meant that as a New York resident, if you made lifetime gifts to friends or family members, the gift was not taxed or included in your New York gross estate for purposes of calculating your estate tax. With the estate tax law as enacted in 2014, there is a limited three-year look-back period for gifts made between April 1, 2014, and Jan. 1, 2019. This means that if a New York resident dies within three years of making a taxable gift, the value of the gift will be included in the decedent’s estate for purposes of computing the New York estate tax. 

The following gifts are excluded from the three-year look-back: (1) gifts made when the decedent was not a New York resident; (2) gifts made by a New York resident before April 1, 2014; (3) gifts made by a New York resident on or after Jan. 1, 2019; and (4) gifts that are otherwise includible in the decedent’s estate under another provision of the federal estate tax law (that is, such gifts aren’t taxed twice).

For federal gift tax purposes, in 2016, you can still make annual gifts of $14,000 per person without having to report these gifts on a gift tax return. These $14,000 gifts are also not included for New York State estate tax purposes.

The New York State estate tax law does not contain a portability provision like in the federal estate tax law. Portability is a provision in the federal estate tax law that allows the unused estate tax exemption of a married taxpayer to carry over to his or her surviving spouse. Without portability, the manner in which a married couple holds title to their assets may continue to have a significant effect on the amount of New York State estate tax ultimately payable upon the survivors’ death.

This New York estate tax law is working to close, and eventually eliminate, the gap between the New York and federal estate tax exclusion amounts. For the next three years, however, as the exclusion amount increases and the three-year look-back for taxable gifts applies, tax planning will still be complex. That being said, it is important for anyone considering whether to make changes to their estate plans or gifting strategies to see an estate planning attorney specializing in these matters.

Nancy Burner, Esq. has practiced elder law and estate planning for 25 years.