Is ABLE Account the Same as Special Needs Trust?

Many families help their disabled loved ones with whatever resources they have, if they can, but this must be done carefully to protect eligibility for government aid, reports a recent article titled “Here’s how ABLE accounts, special needs trust differ…and how they can work together” from CNBC. An ABLE account—named for the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act—can be paired with Special Needs Trusts to improve the quality of life for the disabled family member.

How do Special Needs Trusts work?

The two types of Special Needs Trusts are known as Third-Party and First Party trusts. The Third-Party Trust is funded by parents or others and are only for the disabled person’s needs. When the parents pass, the funds go to someone else. A First Party Trust is created with the disabled individual’s own funds and is used to shelter any income, earned or inherited, to maintain their eligibility for Medicaid, which has both income and asset limits. Any distributions from the First Party Trust must be approved by the trustee. After the death of the disabled individual, Medicaid will make a claim on any funds in the First Party Trust

Special Needs Trusts (SNTs) may not be used for certain expenses paid for by government programs, including groceries, medical expenses covered by Medicaid and housing expenses, which are covered by Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Expenses not covered by government programs can be paid from ABLE Accounts. The ABLE account is a tax-advantaged saving account similar to the 529 accounts used for college savings. Funds may be used for expenses that maintain or improve the individual’s health, independence, or quality of life. Funds can be used for education, recreation, personal technology and more.

Medicaid can clawback funds from the ABLE account after the death of the recipient.

There are requirements and limitations to the ABLE account. In 2022, only $16,000 may be contributed per year. Most parents leave more than this amount for their disabled children, so a different vehicle is needed for inheritance.

Here’s where it gets interesting: A trustee for a SNT can make a distribution to the ABLE account to help cover expenses not permitted to be paid from the Trust.

An estate planning attorney can help the family plan for the present and the future to use these and other strategic planning tools for a disabled individual.

Reference: CNBC (June 30, 2022) “Here’s how ABLE accounts, special needs trust differ…and how they can work together”

 

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How Do Special Needs Trusts Work?

Special Needs Trusts – Parents with disabled children worry about how their offspring will manage when parents are no longer able to care for them. Leaving money directly to a child receiving means-tested government benefits, like Social Security Supplemental Income or Medicaid, could make them ineligible for these programs, explains an article from Kiplinger titled “Estate Planning: A Special Trust for a Special Need.” In most states, beneficiaries of either program are only allowed to have a few thousand dollars in assets, with the specific amount varying by state. However, the financial support from government programs only goes so far. Many families opt to have their own family member with special needs live at home, since the benefit amount is rarely enough.

The solution is a Special Needs Trust, which provides financial support for a disabled individual. The SNT owns the assets, not the individual. Therefore, the assets are excluded from asset limit tests. The funds in the trust can be used to enhance quality of life, such as a cell phone, a vacation or a private room in a group living facility. The SNT is a means of making sure that a vulnerable family member receives the money and other relatives, such as a sibling, don’t have a financial burden.

Special Needs Trusts can only be created for those who are younger than age 65 and are meant for individuals with a mental or physical disability so severe they cannot work and require ongoing support from government agencies. A disabled person who can and does work isn’t eligible to receive government support and isn’t eligible for an SNT, although an estate planning attorney will be able to create a trust for this scenario also.

Each state has its own guidelines for SNTs, with some requiring a verification from a medical professional. There are challenges along the way. A child with autism may grow up to be an adult who can work and hold a job, for instance. However, estate planning attorneys recommend setting up the SNT just in case. If your family member qualifies, it will be there for their benefit. If they do not, it will operate as an ordinary trust and give the person the income according to your instructions.

SNTs require a trustee and successor trustee to be responsible for managing the trust and distributing assets. The beneficiary may not have the ability to direct distributions from the trust. The language of the trust must state explicitly the trustee has sole discretion in making distributions.

Because every state has its own system for administering disability benefits, the estate planning attorney will tailor the trust to meet the state’s requirements. The SNT also must be reported to the state. If the beneficiary moves to another state, the SNT may be subjected to two different sets of laws and the trustee will need to confirm the trust meets both state’s requirements.

SNTs operate as pass-through entities. Tax treatment favors ongoing distributions to beneficiaries. Any earned investment income goes to the beneficiary in the same year, with distributions taxed at the beneficiaries’ income tax rate. Trust assets may be used to pay for the tax bill.

As long as all annual income from the trust is distributed in a given year, the trust will not owe any tax. However, a return must be filed to report income. For any undistributed annual investment income, the trust is taxed at one of four levels of tax rates. These range from 10% and can go as high as 37%, depending on the trust income.

An SNT can be named as the beneficiary of a traditional IRA on the death of the parent. Investments grow tax deferred, as long as they remain in the retirement account and the SNT collects the required minimum distributions for the retirement account each year, with the money passing as income. However, any undistributed amount of the required distribution will be taxed at the trust’s highest tax rate.

Reference: Kiplinger (June 8, 2022) “Estate Planning: A Special Trust for a Special Need”

 

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What about Personal Property when Someone Dies?

Probate law does not allow anyone to take personal property from a loved ones’ home after they die, until the will has been probated. Learning about probate, what it entails and how to prepare for it may make it a little easier when a family member dies, says a recent article titled “Can you empty a house before probate? from Augusta Free Press. Knowing what to expect can avoid common pitfalls and mistakes, some of which often lead to family fights and even litigation.

Probate is a court-supervised period when the estate of the decedent is on pause. Assets may not be distributed, including personal items in the home. The goal is to ensure that assets are distributed only after the will has been ruled valid by the court and following the instructions in the will.

Probate includes the legal appointment of the executor, who is named in the will with specific statutory responsibilities, to include ultimately distributing assets.

For many people, estate planning includes preparing assets to avoid the probate process. An estate plan includes a review of the entire estate to see which assets are best suited to be taken out of the estate. Living trusts, joint ownership, transfer-on-death (TOD) and many other estate planning strategies can be used, depending on the person’s finances.

Certain tasks can be accomplished during probate relating to the home and other personal property. This includes changing the locks on the home to protect it from criminals and unauthorized people who have keys. The decedent’s mail can be forwarded to the executor or another family member’s address. A review of the decedent’s bills, especially monthly payments, can take place. If there’s a mortgage on the home, the mortgage company needs to be contacted and the payments need to be made.

As the end of the probate period nears, it may be time to contact an appraiser to get an unbiased, professional appraisal of the home’s value. This will be needed if the home is to be sold, or if the estate plan needs a valuation of the home.

Probate is often a necessary process. It can create challenges for the family, especially if no estate planning has been done. In some jurisdictions, probate is quick and painless, while in others it is a long and expensive process. Prior planning by an experienced estate planning attorney prevents many of the issues presented by probate.

After probate has been completed, the executor distributes the assets, including the personal property in the home. Personal property with sentimental value often sparks more family fights than assets of greater value. Administering an estate when emotions are running high is a challenge for all concerned.

Another reason to have an estate plan in place is to delineate very specifically what you want to occur after your death. That way there is no room for family members to stake a claim and do something contrary to your wishes.

Reference: Augusta Free Press (May 13, 2022) “Can you empty a house before probate?

 

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Debt Collection – Do I Have to Pay Off Husband’s Debts after He Dies?

Debt Collection – After the loss of a spouse, before doing anything, take a sec to catch your breath and make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities regarding debt collection. You may not be liable for some debts, including even certain types of credit card charges, which may be forgiven at death. However, other debts can linger much longer.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Am I Responsible for Paying Off My Deceased Husband’s Debt?” says you should understand that you’re typically not personally responsible for paying off your spouse’s debts because any loans would normally be paid off by his estate. This includes credit card debt, student loans, car loans, mortgages and business loans.

When a spouse passes away owing a debt, the debt doesn’t immediately disappear. Instead, the estate is liable for paying any outstanding debts, and the personal representative, executor, or administrator will pay debts owed from the money in the estate. It’s not paid from the surviving spouse’s savings.  However, if the surviving spouse inherits certain assets from the deceased spouse through beneficiary designations or joint account ownership, and the estate assets are not enough to satisfy the creditors, they may try to make a claim against those assets that pass directly to the surviving spouse outside of the probate estate.

A surviving spouse may also be responsible for certain types of debts. For example, if the debt is jointly owned or he or she has co-signed a loan, the surviving spouse is obligated to continue to pay this debt. There are also states that require a surviving spouse to pay off any medical bills the deceased incurred before their death.

You should be familiar with the laws of your state, so you know your liability on all debts. This is because some community property states say you’re responsible for the debt, even if it’s not in your name. Community property laws make both spouses equally liable for debts incurred after the marriage has taken place. There are currently nine community-property states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

If the surviving spouse is a joint account holder on a credit card, he or she would need to continue to pay off the credit card because both spouses are both considered owners of the account and share equally in the ownership of any charges on the card.

Unfortunately, some debt collectors are inappropriately aggressive. Therefore, if a debt collector says you’re responsible for the account balance, but you think you’re not, ask for evidence. Speak with an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney to understand in what situations you are obligated to pay and when you’re not.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 28, 2021) “Am I Responsible for Paying Off My Deceased Husband’s Debt?”

 

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Who Pays Mortgage When I Pass Away?

No one automatically assumes your mortgage after your death, says Credible’s recent article entitled “What Happens to Your Mortgage When You Die?”

Your estate executor—the individual you name to carry out your will and manage your estate after you die—will continue to make payments using funds from the estate, while everything is being settled. Later, the person who inherits the home might be able to assume the loan.

If you’re a co-borrower or co-signer with the decedent, you don’t have to do anything to take over the mortgage because you’re already responsible for paying it.

Mortgage loans have a due-on-sale clause, also called an acceleration clause. This requires the loan to be paid in full, if it transfers to a new owner. However, federal law prohibits lenders from accelerating a loan in the event of a borrower’s death.

Those who acquire ownership this way are considered “successors in interest,” and lenders must treat them as if they were the borrower. A successor in interest can assume the loan without having to apply or qualify, and continue making the payments. You also can modify the mortgage to avoid foreclosure, if you want to keep the home.

A significant step in estate planning is drafting a will stating exactly how you want your estate handled after you die and naming an executor.

When planning to bequeath a mortgaged home, you should disclose the mortgage to your executor and close relatives. If you fail to do so, they won’t know how to make payments. As a result, the home could be inadvertently lost to foreclosure.

Finally, think about whether the person who inherits your home will be able to afford mortgage payments and upkeep.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you devise a strategy to keep your gift from becoming a burden to your loved ones.

Reference: Credible (Sep. 24, 2021) “What Happens to Your Mortgage When You Die?”

 

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What Is a Fiduciary and Why Is It Important?

If you do not choose a fiduciary, a guardian appointed by a court may end up making financial and medical decisions for you and the intestate statutes of your state will determine who will administer your estate when you have passed. If you’d rather have some control over your life, doing some estate planning now will prevent these scenarios later, according to the article “Fiduciary Agents have power to make decisions you’d prefer to make yourself” from the Pocono Record.

A financial fiduciary is the person you designate under your general durable power of attorney, last will and testament, or trust.

The fiduciary under a power of attorney has the power to make decisions, while you are living, for your financial and legal affairs. The person is named in a legal document called an agent or attorney in fact. This document can be broad, allowing the person to determine how to spend or invest your money, to buy and/or sell your home, etc., or it can permit someone to act on your behalf solely for a specific transaction. You and your estate planning attorney determine what is best.

An agent under a healthcare proxy can make healthcare decisions on your behalf, when you are unable to communicate for yourself because of a severe illness or an injury, or a cognitive condition. It is very important to understand that if you are already incapacitated, you cannot sign documents giving anyone else these powers. They must be prepared before they are needed!

Some people prefer to have one person serve as both their agent for finances and for healthcare. This allows one person who understands your physical and mental needs to make decisions about home care, assisted living or a skilled nursing facility and have access to the resources to pay for these services. This also means that one person is applying for any government benefits to help pay for this care.

There are times when designating two different agents creates conflict, if the two people don’t agree on the appropriate type of care. One may be more concerned with spending down resources, while another may wish you to receive 24/7 care.

If you appointed someone to serve as your fiduciary many years ago, it is so important that your documents be reviewed and updated. Do you still want that same person to make critical decisions on your behalf? Are they still able or willing to serve? If the person you have chosen lives in another state and wants you to be moved to where they live, will that work for you and your family?

If you have not reviewed your estate plan and your power of attorney documents in recent years, it is strongly recommended you do so now. Many families are now grappling with the results of outdated planning, or no planning at all. Having an updated estate plan and all of the related documents provides peace of mind for you and your loved ones.

Reference: Pocono Record (June 1, 2021) “Fiduciary Agents have power to make decisions you’d prefer to make yourself”

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What Happens If Your Revocable Trust Is Not Funded

Revocable trusts can be an effective way to avoid probate and provide for asset management, in case you become incapacitated. These revocable trusts — also known as “living” trusts — are very flexible and can achieve many other goals.

Point Verda Recorder’s recent article entitled “Don’t forget to fund your revocable trust” explains that you cannot take advantage of what the trust has to offer, if you do not place assets in it. Failing to fund the trust means that your assets may be required to go through a costly probate proceeding or be distributed to unintended recipients. This mistake can ruin your entire estate plan.

Transferring assets to the trust—which can be anything like real estate, bank accounts, or investment accounts—requires you to retitle the assets in the name of the trust.

If you place bank and investment accounts into your trust, you need to retitle them with words similar to the following: “[your name and co-trustee’s name] as Trustees of [trust name] Revocable Trust created by agreement dated [date].” An experienced estate planning attorney should be consulted.

Depending on the institution, you might be able to change the name on an existing account. If not, you’ll need to create a new account in the name of the trust, and then transfer the funds. The financial institution will probably require a copy of the trust, or at least of the first page and the signature page, as well as the signatures of all the trustees.

Provided you’re serving as your own trustee or co-trustee, you can use your Social Security number for the trust. If you’re not a trustee, the trust will have to obtain a separate tax identification number and file a separate 1041 tax return each year. You will still be taxed on all of the income, and the trust will pay no separate tax.

If you’re placing real estate in a trust, ask an experienced estate planning attorney to make certain this is done correctly.

You should also consult with an attorney before placing life insurance or annuities into a revocable trust and talk with an experienced estate planning attorney, before naming the trust as the beneficiary of your IRAs or 401(k). This may impact your taxes.

Reference: Point Verda Recorder (Nov. 19, 2020) “Don’t forget to fund your revocable trust”

 

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How Far Did Ross Emmick Go to Get His Grandparents’ Trust Funds?

A 36-year-old Phoenix man, named Ross Emmick, stands accused of threatening to kill his brother to get his inheritance from his grandparents. Fox 10 (Phoenix) News’ recent article entitled “Lawyer details ‘murder,’ ‘kidnapping’ plan over an inheritance between brothers” says that Ross Emmick has been charged with extortion, stalking and conspiracy to commit murder.

There are three brothers in this case. Two, including the suspect, were adopted out of the family when they were small, and the other says he had no idea he had brothers. The trouble started when changes were made to their grandparent’s trust. Documents showed scratched out names and clear changes made to a trust created back in 1998 by James and Jacqueline Emmick, the grandparents.

They were diagnosed with dementia in 2019, a few weeks before changes were made. The beneficiaries were their sons, who died before they’d ever get the inheritance. That is when the changes were made by Ross.

Ross Emmick is said to have talked his grandparents into naming him as the successor trustee, which allows a person to manage the assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries. However, Ross’ only job was to provide information to the beneficiaries—his two brothers, Patrick and the victim (who asked to remain anonymous).

Ross thought he could simply change the names of the beneficiaries. Patrick claims that in addition to the changes to the will, Emmick allegedly stole thousands of dollars before his grandfather died in June 2019.

Ross actually stole a bunch of money from James before he died and then walked out with $50,000 after his death, Patrick said.

“He tried to get some forms notarized for Power of Attorney, and the witness on the original, which was a housekeeper, said that they were in a stable condition and mentally, they weren’t, and even the notary had said that,” said Patrick.

A large part of that was gambled away by Ross, an attorney for one of the brothers said. It wasn’t a well-administered trust, he said.

The brothers agreed to drop the case and divide the rest of the trust. However, that is when investigators say Ross began threatening the other two brothers.

Reference: Fox 10 (Phoenix) News (Aug. 22, 2020) “Lawyer details ‘murder,’ ‘kidnapping’ plan over an inheritance between brothers”

 

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