December 12, 2018










Primary Goals of Small Business Tax Planning

As any experienced small business owner already knows, the primary goal of small business tax planning is to make the most the money the business is already generating. How an accountant achieves that goal depends on the type of business, the source of its income, and a myriad of other factors.

Staying Out of Trouble

Generally speaking, effective tax planning aims to eliminate or considerably reduce the amount of federal, state, or local taxes your business owes by planning when and how to conduct day to day business activities. Unfortunately, while it is perfectly legal to plan business activities in an effort to avoid certain taxes, it isn’t legal to carry out business in a way that evades taxes.

The number one goal in small business tax planning, therefore, becomes staying out of trouble. That’s where tax professionals such as accountants and attorneys come in. Doing your own tax planning without the benefit of an experienced professional is like skating on thin ice; a wrong move could prove dangerous.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

While many small business owners completely disregard taxes until the time comes to file a return, even those who participate in tax planning are prone to making mistakes that cost them in the long run.

One of the biggest mistakes small business owners make is missing out on available tax credits, loopholes, and deductions that could lower their tax burden and keep more money in their pocket. Another common mistake is waiting until the last minute to consult with a tax professional. Good small business tax advice can help steer an entrepreneur in the right direction before taxes come due, giving them more time to take steps that will lower their tax burden in the first place.

Putting Business Income to Better Use

Money that otherwise might have been paid in taxes could be put to better use in the form of valuable business-related deductions. For example, a small trucking company could significantly lower its taxable income by investing in a new truck or a better communications system and writing it off at the end of the quarter. In turn, that new piece of equipment could be used to generate more income, which could then be applied to more equipment. Using tax planning in this way could substantially contribute to your company’s growth.

Sources:
http://www.sba.gov/community/blogs/mid-year-tax-planning-do-it-now-save-later
http://smallbusiness.foxbusiness.com/finance-accounting/2013/10/25/end-year-tax-planning-for-your-small-business/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/thesba/2012/01/10/5-tax-planning-tips-for-small-business-owners/

How Spousal Rights Affect Legal Property Ownership

Various laws concerning a person’s property rights during marriage are normally based on the state that the marriage took place in. Marriage and property ownership laws in different states are divided into two different categories. There are states with community property laws and states that do not have community property laws. These different laws govern how spouses can dispose of their property or use their property during marriage. They also govern how property will be divided in the event that the spouses have a divorce or in the event that one of the spouses dies. Most states give spouses the chance to change a state’s law a little regarding marital properties through the use of spousal agreements.

Community Property States and Common Law States

The property that two people own during a marriage is divided into two different categories. Property can be either non-marital property or community property. Community property is property that a married couple own together. Non-marital property is a type of property that a spouse owns alone or owned before he or she got married. However, this type of property can become marital property if it becomes mixed in with property that the couple owns together. For example, if a spouse uses money that was obtained before the marriage to pay towards a down payment for a home with his or her spouse and both people make payments with money that is earned after the marriage, the complete equity in the home becomes marital property.

Common law states pay more attention to the name that is on the title of the property when it comes to a spouse’s property ownership rights. For example, if each spouse has a car in his or her name, it will belong to only him or her. However, if the house is in both names, they each own half of the value of the house.

Postnuptial and Prenuptial Agreements

All states regardless of their laws concerning marriage and property will let married couples create reserved agreements about property and the division of property. However, there will be various specifications regarding what is allowed in these agreements. The specifications are different with each state. An agreement can never put a limit to how much child support will be paid if a divorce does happen. Depending on the state, this might also apply to spousal support as well. Most of the time prenuptial agreements and postnuptial agreements are geared towards the spouse’s property ownership rights. Your state’s courts are probably going to pay more attention to enforcing prenuptial agreements than postnuptial agreements. However, both types of agreements will only be enforced if each spouse has equal negotiating power. There must also be full financial disclosure between both parties.

SOURCES:
http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/marriage-property-ownership-who-owns-what-29841.html
http://www.prenuptialagreements.org/postnuptial-agreements/
http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/pf/20060322a1.asp

The Advantages and Disadvantages of an Adult Guardianship

Adult guardianships are sometimes necessary when an adult becomes incapacitated and the adult can no longer handle his or her financial or medical business. If there is no durable power of attorney in place, the guardianship becomes necessary. The court is the institution that is in charge of appointing a representative to handle the matters of the adult. Generally, an interested family member or friend is considered to be a suitable representative. The court will take several things in consideration before naming the person as guardian.

Initiating a Guardianship Petition

The process is initiated by an interested party filing a petition for guardianship. The petition is required to be accompanied by a physician’s report that indicates the need for guardianship. According to law, the “disabled adult” is entitled to due process under law, so he or she must be served with the petition at least 14 days prior to the court proceedings.

Legal and Social Advantages of a Guardianship

A guardianship offers legal advantages for the representative and the disabled adult. The disabled adult can have his or her important financial and health decisions made by someone that has the person’s best interests in mind. An appointed guardian has a responsibility to report the ward’s activity to the court, so there is a checks-and-balances mechanism in place. Court oversight provides some protection for the representative, especially when others might make accusations that the representative is abusing his or her power. A guardian is required to have a bond issued to offer some protection of the disabled person’s assets.

Legal and Social Disadvantages of a Guardianship

A guardianship has several disadvantages as well. The costs of a guardianship can be fairly prohibitive. These costs include fees for court proceedings, legal representation, and posting a bond. The representative is required to pay a premium for the bond that protects the assets of the disabled adult. The annual reporting that is required by the guardian can be tedious. In addition, privacy is reduced considerably with this type of proceeding. A guardianship hearing is considered a public proceeding, and the public can sit in on the hearing, although not all of the information is public. For instance, the court will seal all medical and physician reports, and these reports can only be retrieved in circumstances where the judge deems it appropriate for the release of these records.

Is a Guardianship the Right Choice for Your Loved One?

There are several alternatives to guardianship, so it would be wise to discuss each of them with an elder law lawyer before deciding on the best option for your loved one. Attorney Andrew Lamkin focuses exclusively on elder law and related legal issues and offers free consultations. Call the Law Office of Andrew Lamkin, P.C., at 516-605-0625 to discuss your situation and your options.

What is Elderly Guardianship and When is it Necessary

The number of people with elderly parents has exploded in recent years, and taking care of an elderly parent, or even two, may be difficult. Sometimes, the health of an elderly person will depend on his or her caretakers. Often, assigning a guardian is required to keep a person safe in old age.

The guardian is often a child or close family friend of the elderly person. The guardian must be over the age of 18 and must not have a criminal record. In cases where an elderly person does not have a close family member for care, the court may assign a different individual, such as a lawyer or a private company to serve as Guardian.

A guardian is assigned when the court decides a person cannot look after himself and may be in danger if someone is not assigned to ensure proper care. Each state has a different set of rules guiding the guardianship process, and an elderly person must be labeled “legally incompetent” or “incapacitated” by the court. This means that person cannot make important decisions on his or her own due to age.

In most cases, a person will bring a case to the court through a document called a “petition,” which is an official request that an elderly person has a guardian assigned for legal rights and care. The process may take some time, and the court may require an evaluation that takes a few months to figure out if someone is competent or not.

It may be necessary for the child or relative of an elderly person to seek guardianship to keep that person safe and to make sure that a person with reduced mental health has proper care so that they do not make bad decisions about important financial or legal items. It would be unfortunate if an elderly person lost the family home because they were scammed out of property or savings.

In addition, a person who is unable to make good financial decisions might also have problems remembering to take medication or attend doctor’s appointments. It is essential that family members remain aware of a parent or relative’s mental state so that elderly guardianship options may be considered. It may be difficult for an elderly person to accept that he or she can no longer make decisions on his or her own, but it is important for guardianship to happen if it will keep that person and his or her personal assets safe.

Resources:
http://www.caring.com/articles/adult-guardianship
http://www.guardianship.org/reports/Guardianship_of_the_Elderly.pdf
http://www.agingcare.com/Articles/how-to-get-guardianship-of-elderly-parents-140693.htm

5 Things You Might Not Know about a Will

Most people know that a will is a written document providing the last wishes of a person. It will detail how the person’s property will be given to his or her heirs. However, there are things many do not know about how a will is created or how it is used.

1. If a Person Dies Without a Will, Property Does Not Go to the State

Every state has laws detailing where property goes if a person dies without a will. These are called laws of intestate succession. Normally, property will first go to the spouse or children. If none exists, it will go to grandchildren, then parents, brothers and sisters, aunts or uncles and cousins.

If none of these relatives are alive, it is only then that property will go to the state. However, a will is still important because a person can identify exactly to whom he or she wants personal property to be transferred. It is also important if the person has minor children because the will names who the person wishes to be guardians.

2. Persons should not write Their Own Wills

some People think they can write their own Will. This may or may not be a good idea because if the language is wrong, their wishes may not be carried out. Anyone signing a will normally needs two witnesses to declare that they have witnessed the person signing the will and that the person was mentally sound when it was signed. This is referred to as attestation of a will. A person writing their own will may not be versed in the legal terms necessary to properly carry out their wishes or the procedural formalities needed to ensure proper execution.

3. Handwritten Changes to a Will are not Allowed

Many people who have a will will experience changes in their lives or change their minds over whom to give their property. Simply crossing out one name in a will and writing in another is generally not valid. Usually, an amendment to the will, called a codicil, is needed. Like the original will, a codicil requires the signature of two witnesses, as well as an attestation of witnesses.

4. A Will does not Automatically Transfer Property

When a person dies leaving a will, it must be presented to a special court for approval. This process is called probate. A probate court judge will review the will to ensure it is valid and will appoint a person to carry out the instructions in it.

The probate process can take months or sometimes years to complete. Only when the court approves of the will can the property itself be transferred.

5. Not all Property is Transferred by a Will

Some property, such as life insurance proceeds or some real estate may be transferred differently than is stated in the will. If a person has a life insurance policy that directs the proceeds to go to A, but the will states that “all of my property goes to B”, the life insurance will go to A.

In fact, if life insurance names a specific person to pay the proceeds, it does not matter if a will exists. Likewise, if real estate is owned with another person, the real estate may automatically transfer to the other person.

The laws for creating and carrying out the wishes of a will can be complex. If there are questions or confusion of how to do so, a person should meet with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Read more here:
http://www.goodwillsmidlands.co.uk/our_services/some_interesting_facts_about_wills
http://burke.patch.com/blog_posts/top-5-myths-and-facts-about-wills-trusts-5e99b4f8
http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/trusts_estates_prof/2012/05/ten-fun-facts-about-estate-planning.html
http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/attestation_clause
http://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/probate.asp
http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Codicils

Medicaid Redesign team Proposes Changes to Medicaid Eligibility in New York

Governor Cuomo recently accepted proposals from New York’s newly created Medicaid Redesign Team (“MRT”). While it is early in the process, and the proposals may not be implemented in their present form or at all, budgeting pressures at all levels of government make it likely that some changes in the Medicaid program will occur. Here are a few of the particularly troubling features of the MRT’s proposals:

Elimination of Spousal/Parental Refusal

Currently, a spouse may refuse to support their spouse who is an applicant for Community Medicaid or Medicaid Home Care. When this occurs, Medicaid is obligated to provide care or services to the applicant, assuming he is eligible (under $13,800 in resources), even if the spouse can afford to pay. The MRT is proposing that the resources and income of the spouse should be considered in determining whether the applicant is eligible for Medicaid. This means that spouses, and parents of disabled children, will be required to spend down virtually all of the household’s assets, and contribute a share of their income, before their ill spouse or disabled child will be eligible to receive care.

5-year “Look Back” for Community Medicaid and Home Care

Currently, the 5-year look back and transfer penalties apply only to applicants for Institutional Medicaid (for Nursing Home Care). Currently, applicants for Community Medicaid or Home Care are able to transfer their assets to family members, friends, or trusts, and thereby become eligible for Community Medicaid benefits. The MRT’s proposal would extend the 5-year look back to Community Medicaid and Home Care, which means that many potential applicants will find that they are ineligible for Medicaid, or subject to a lengthy penalty period before benefits can be obtained.

Estate Recovery

Currently, it is difficult for Medicaid to recover from the estates of medicaid recipients where the recipient has effectively transferred their assets during life to a family member or trust. The proposed law would allow medicaid the ability to seek recovery in these cases.

Impact of these proposals

If these proposals become law, many Medicaid applicants and their families will be severely affected. Some will find their financial situation and lifestyle significantly diminished, and others may find it difficult to pay for even basic living expenses. Many may to apply for food stamps, another program funded by the government.

What to do? Now, more than ever, people who need, or may need (even if they think they will never need it), long-term care should make it a top priority to consult a Long Island Elder Law attorney. Planning may need to be taken earlier than previously seemed necessary. As always, with proper planning, t will still be possible to improve your situation, even if these new measures find their way into law.

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Community Medicaid in New York State

How to Stay at home and protect your assets and income

In New York, the Community Based Medicaid program will pay for the cost of a home health aide. When applying, the local department of social services considered the applicant’s income and assets and whether the Medicaid applicant requires the assistance with the activities of daily living. The following is a breakdown of how DSS evaluates each for a New York Community Medicaid application.

Activities of Daily Living

An individual over the age of 65 is considered “disabled” and therefore entitled to Community Medicaid benefits if they need assistance with the activities of daily living, These include bathing, dressing, toileting and feeding. For most that are interested in Community Medicaid, this is not a difficult a difficult threshold to reach. Any applicant with the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s or with physical disabilities that limit their ability to live on their own, is sufficiently “disabled” enough to receive Community Medicaid benefits.

Income

Income is calculated by adding the following: Social Security, Pensions, income from rental properties or other investments, and require minimum distributions from retirement accounts. Under Community Medicaid rules in New York, the Medicaid recipient is entitled to keep $787 per month of their income. The remainder of the recipients income is called a “spenddown”. The Medicaid recipient is required spend the remainder on the cost of the aide. Medicaid will pay the difference.

Most of those who can stay at home will have expenses far exceeding the $787 limit. Medicaid understands this and allows for an exception. The often used exception is called a “Pooled Income Trust”.

Clearly, for many recipients of Community Based Medicaid, loss of income would prevent them from remaining in their homes. Enter the Pooled Income Trust. A Pooled Income Trust is similar to a bank account, however it administered by a Non-profit Trust Company, such as NYSARC Trust Services or AHRC.

If Mr. Smith has a monthly income of $2,787 in Social Security and pension income, and he is receiving Medicaid benefits for home care in her Long Island home, he has $2,000 in “excess income” under the current Medicaid rules. As a result, Mr. Smith is required to send a check each month in the amount of $2,000 to his home care agency as a contribution to the cost of his care.

However, when Mr. Smith joins a qualified pooled income trust, his $2,000 check will be sent to the trust instead of his home care agency. The trust will then be able to pay any of Mr. Smith’s expenses, such as his utilities, his food, or his clothing, from his own funds or even the taxes on his Long Island home. Mr. Smith will continue to receive his Medicaid home care, as well.

The pooled income trust contains the funds of many disabled persons and is managed by a non-profit organization that maintains separate accounts for each individual. In order to participate in the trust, the disabled person (or his representative acting under durable power of attorney) signs an agreement with the trust. Under this agreement, upon the beneficiary’s death, if there are any remaining funds they are kept by the trust.

Those who wish to participate in a pooled income trust will have to establish that they are disabled, but findings of disability by the Social Security Administration or by Medicaid are valid for this purpose.

Assets

For Medicaid purposes in New York, assets include any real property owned by the applicant or savings in the form of money markets, CD’s, stocks, bonds, cash values in insurance policies, and other non-retirement investments. When applying for Community Medicaid in New York, the applicant’s total assets must be under $13,800. Clearly, most individuals in New York City, Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island, are worth more than $13,800.

Many have heard of a five-year look-back period on asset transfers when applying for Medicaid. It is true that a five-year look back period exists – but only for Institutional Medicaid application where the applicant is residing in a nursing home. When applying for Community Based Medicaid applications in New York, there is no five-year look back. Therefore, an applicant can transfer their assets in month and apply for benefits the following month. The best way to transfer assets can only be determined on a case by case scenario. While in some cases it may be appropriate to transfer assets to other family members, including adult children, in other cases it would more advisable to transfer the assets to an Irrevocable Trust.

Most people are not aware of the eligibility requirements for Community Based Medicaid in New York. This is unfortunate because many individuals who could be eligible are spending down their savings on the cost of a home health aide. Whether an individual requires an aide for the first time (perhaps they are leaving a rehab facility) or have had an aide with them and are paying privately, many can eligible for Community Medicaid benefits with the proper planning.

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How to Pay for Nursing Home Care on Long Island

The cost of a Nursing Home in Long Island is generally $12,000 – $15,000 per month. This cost can deplete savings very quickly. As a result, proper planning is extremely important.

There are three ways to pay for a Nursing Home. First, one can use their savings. Clearly not a great plan – especially if your spouse must rely on that money to live. Second, one can purchase Long Term Care Insurance. Unfortunately, not many people can afford the premiums and the policies do not always cover the entire cost of care.

The third way to pay for Nursing Home Care on Long Island is Medicaid. Medicaid is a federal program which is administered by the States. In 2006, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA) was passed, making it more difficult – NOT IMPOSSIBLE – to qualify for Medicaid benefits. There are two ways in which the DRA made qualifying for Medicaid more difficult.

First, it extended a look back period on assets transfers from 3 years to five years. This means that when applying for Institutional Medicaid to pay for the Nursing Home, the local Department of Social Services will review your bank statements for the previous five years. If you have transferred any assets to a non spouse, they will impose a penalty period, during which the resident of the Nursing Home is responsible for payment. At the conclusion of the penalty period, Medicaid will “pick up” the cost of care.

The second way that the DRA affected eligibility is that he penalty period now begins when who enter the nursing home and apply for medicaid. Under the old law, the penalty period began when the asset was transferred. Therefore, under the old law, even if you made a large transfer within the 3 year look back, there is a possibility that the penalty period is over when you enter the nursing home. Under the DRA, the penalty period does not begin until one applies for Medicaid. Therefore, if there was a transfer of assets within the 5 years, there will always be a penalty period.

This does not mean that you cannot apply for Medicaid when you enter a Nursing Home. To the contrary it means that YOU MUST APPLY IMMEDIATELY because you want the penalty period to begin as soon as possible. Additionally there is a planning strategy that can cut the penalty period almost in half.

The above only applies to those who do not have spouses. If a Medicaid Applicant has a spouse, they can transfer their assets to the spouse and that transfer is not considered in the look back period – hence there would be no penalty period. The spouse simply signs a form called a “Spousal Refusal” and Medicaid will not impoverish the well spouse. There are certain limits to this, however. if the Community spouse has over $100,000 in assets, Medicaid can seek a contribution from them. Fortunately, the contribution is often minimal.

Proper planning can alleviate many concerns and protect assets against the high cost of care at Nursing Homes on Long Island. However, even if planning has not occurred, it it possible to protect some assets should you require Nursing Home Care. It is advisable to seek the advice of an Elder Law Attorney in Long Island as soon as your spouse or family member enters a nursing home. Getting a jump on the application process can save you a month or two of nursing home costs.

With questions about how to apply for Nursing Home Medicaid benefits, please call this office for a free consultation at 516-605-0625.

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The Irrevocable Income Only Trust

A Case Study in protecting your assets against the cost of long term care

Mr. and Mrs. Watson are in their mid-seventies. Mr. Watson recently fell and injured his hip. He is home from re-hab and is doing better, but may require assistance in the coming years. Additionally, Mrs. Watson has just been diagnosed with the onset on Alzheimers. They own their house (valued at $550,000) on Long Island and have a nice nest egg of about $400,000 in investments and savings. They also receive a combined $3,700 per month in income from social security, Mr. Watson’s pension and income from their investments. They can comfortably live off of their income and do not need to touch the principal of their savings. Their children are concerned with how they can protect their assets while receiving the care they will require in the future.

Their situation is common to many seniors on Long Island. The solution – The Irrevocable Income Only Trust (IIOT). In simplest terms, a Trust is private agreement used to achieve various estate planning goals. There are many kinds of Trusts – the most common being Revocable and Irrevocable. The Irrevocable Trust, as it’s name implies, cannot be altered, modified, amended or revoked. Then why do it?

Simple – if your situation is similar to the Watson’s, the Irrevocable Trust is most often the best way to protect assets against the cost of long term care (cost of home health aide or nursing home).

Here’s how the IIOT would work for the Watson’s. Mr. and Mrs. Watson would create the Trust (they are called the Settlor’s) and appoint one of their two children as Trustees. The Trust would have a name, just as any company has a name. It may be called the “Watson Family 2010 Irrevocable Trust”. Then they would transfer the deed to their house to the Trust. Although they technically do not own the house, the Watson’s would still receive all tax breaks associated with property ownership, such as a property tax deduction or veteran’s deduction. The Trust terms would also stipulate that the Watson’s can live in the house for the remainder of their lives.

The Watsons are considering selling their house in 1 year to buy a condo. The good news is that the Trustee can sell the house for them and buy the condo with the proceeds. The remaining proceeds as well as any of their other investments can also be owned by the trust. The principal remains in the Trust and the income generated (dividends from stock, interest from CD’s, etc..) will continue to go to the Watsons. This is important because they need currently rely on that income. By creating the Irrevocable Trust and transferring assets to the Trust, the assets are protected from Medicaid because the Trust is Irrevocable. By giving control of the assets to one of your children, you are protecting the assets.

If you require the assistance of a home health aide in New York, the assets are protected immediately. This means that, assuming you have protected all of your assets, you would qualify for Medicaid benefits. To be eligible for Institutional Medicaid (Nursing home), you have to do this planning 5 years before applying for Medicaid (The Deficit Reduction Act of 2006 (DRA) imposed a five year look back period on asset transfers).

Typically, I would not advise my clients to transfer all of their assets to the Trust. That would be a big step for most. Fortunately, you can continue to transfer assets down the road.

Protecting assets against the cost of care is important. Most of my clients are like the Watson’s. They want to ensure that their assets are protected and would rather their children inherit than the money go to a nursing home. Though important, this planning must also be done with the counsel of trusted advisors.

With questions about how the Irrevocable Trust can be used to protect your assets, please call this office for a free consultation at 516-605-0625, or contact us online.

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Probate: What it is and why to avoid it

Probate is the process by which a Last Will & Testament is declared valid. When an individual passes away the named executor of the Will must file a Petition, along with the original Will, with Surrogates Court in the county where the decedent resided. Included with the Petition, the Executor must satisfy certain requirements. One such requirement is to serve notice upon all lawful heirs of the decedent.

The heirs are asked to sign a Waiver of Process and Consent to Probate. By signing this form, the heir is consenting to the appointment of the Petitioning Executor – but is not forfeiting any rights to their inheritance. The lawful heirs are the closest relatives – starting with the spouse, children and grandchildren and if there are not any surviving then parents, siblings and nieces and nephews.

At the conclusion of the proceeding – after the Petition has been filed with the necessary Waiver and Consent forms – the Judge will appoint the Petitioning Executor as Executor. At this time, the Executor can collect the assets of the estate and distribute them according to the terms of the Will. Typically the process is not too difficult. However, there are situations where it may be important.

Disinheriting a child:

During the probate process in New York, a disinherited child will still be asked to sign a waiver and consent form. Because the child is disinherited, it is unlikely they would sign the form. The attorney for the estate will be required to ask the Judge to serve that individual with a Citation. The citation would put the individual on notice that he has the right to appear in Court at a predetermined time. If the individual does not show up, they forfeit their rights to contest the estate. Because of these requirements, the entire process is extended and can last for over 6-12 months. Avoiding probate for New York residents is important if they are disinheriting a child. It will reduce the likelihood that the disinherited child will contest the Will. It will also make life much easier for the other heirs, saving them months of aggravation and thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Property in Multiple States:

Sometimes probate only occurs when the decedent owned property in New York and in another state. In fact, many of my clients own their home in Long Island and a winter home on Florida. When this occurs, the heirs are required to probate the estate in New York and Florida. The entire process will easily last for over 1 year. Further, because two probate proceedings are required, two attorneys would have to be hired, one on New York and the other in Florida. The time and costs associated with two probate proceedings are great reasons to speak with an Estate Planning Attorney in New York to discuss ways to avoid probate.

Second Marriages:

Previously, I mentioned that New York probate proceedings require the inclusion of all lawful heirs. When passing away with a spouse and children, they are all considered lawful heirs. If you are in a second marriage and your will distributes your assets in a way that may upset either your spouse or children from a previous marriage, there is a very good chance that the probate process can be turned into a battleground between the survivors. With proper planning it is possible to avoid probate in these circumstances and make sure that your assets are distributed in accordance with your wishes.

New York probate proceedings are not always difficult. However, in certain situations, it is advisable to seek the advice of counsel and learn how you can make life easier for your heirs. Though it is not a great commentary on our society, unfortunately, money changes people. Most family feuds occur when one family member has passed away and their estate needs to be administered. The probate process in New York is important because it requires all family members to be involved. However, this very requirement also makes the process difficult and expensive. If one of your estate planning goals is to ensure a smooth and inexpensive transition of assets upon your demise, it is advisable to avoid probate – especially in the situations described above.

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Estate Planning for New Parents

New parents have many things to think about. Is it a boy or a girl? How do we decorate the nursery? Day care or a nanny? Some of the most important questions, however, are put on the back burner because most new parents either choose not to discuss them or can’t come to any conclusions with their spouse.

Guardian

Perhaps the most important decision for a new parent is that of choosing a guardian for their children. His brother or her sister? My parents or yours? For some, choosing a guardian simple. Perhaps they only have 1 sibling (and they get along) or a close cousin or best friend. For others, however, the choose of a guardian can be agonizing. Whether it is because they do not know who to ask, don’t have anyone they trust or can’t agree with their spouse, often times, the inability to make a decision on a guardian is the #1 reason why new parents do not do wills.

This is a mistake. The reason it is a mistake is because of what will happen if they do nothing. In the absence of Last Will & Testament appointing a guardian for minor children, family members can fight for custody and/or visitation rights. They can fight for control of the child’s inheritance. If you thought that Thanksgiving with the entire family was awkward, wait to see what happens when everyone thinks they are the best choice to raise your children.

The best tip I can give to new parents is to make a decision. You need to sit down with your spouse and talk about what is best for your children. Many young parents will want to choose their parents as guardians. This may be your only choice, but consider the age of your parents and the physical demands of raising young children. Are your parents able to do it? If you must appoint your parents, be sure to also name a back up guardian – just in case something happens to your parents or they are unable to do it.

Minors Trust

A minors Trust is a provision in a will that allows parents to determine how their children will inherit. In the absence of a Minors Trust, a minor child will assume control of their inheritance at the age of 18. A minors trust allows a parent to set age milestones for when their children will have control.

Lets say that parents have two young children. The Wills can state that each child’s portion will be placed into a trust until the child reaches the age of 21. At that point 1/3 of the child’s inheritance will be given to him. The next third at 25 and the final 3rd at 30. These are only examples. A parent is free to choose the ages and percentages that they deem appropriate.

The money in the Trust, though not in the control of the child, can be used for their Health, Maintenance, Education and Support prior to the stipulated ages. Additionally, the parents name the Trustees of the money. The Trustee can be the same as the guardian, but there is no such requirement.

When choosing to include a Minors trust in your Will, be sure to organize your beneficiary designations properly. Keep in mind that if your children are named as a beneficiary of an investment account or life insurance policy, the proceeds of such will pass to them directly, outside the terms of the will and thus outside the terms of the Minors Trust.

Insurance

Life Insurance is a very important aspect the estate plan of new parents. Most young parents will buy Term Life Insurance. A term policy is a policy in effect for a term of years (15, 20, 30). The premiums are affordable because no cash value accumulates in the policy. The only purpose is to provide protection against the loss of income that would occur when a parent passes.

Policies should be purchased on the life of each parent, but perhaps not in equal amounts. If one spouse stays at home with the kids, a small policy is advisable because there is no income to replace. The only cost that would arise would be that of childcare. A larger policy should be purchased on the life of the income earner. When thinking of amounts, consider how much your spouse and children would need if they lost your income. Such factors include college, weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, mortgage on the house, cost of living and security.

If you are a soon to be new parent seek the advice of an Estate Attorney and/or financial advisor to discuss these important issues. Inaction can only harm your surviving spouse and children.

Estate Planning for those in 2nd Marriages in New York

For those in second marriages, Estate Planning can pose many different issues. This is because spouses may have to provide for their new spouse, their new spouse’s children, and their own children from the previous marriage. If you are marrying later in life and already have substantial assets, this can make the situation even more difficult and complex. One of the challenges will be to use those assets to ensure that a surviving spouse is financially secure during his or her lifetime, while preserving a sizable sum for the children from your first marriage.

With a second marriage, spouses may need to consider how long the second marriage has lasted and the financial situation of each spouse. In addition, a great deal of thought should go into what the children from the first marriage will receive if their parent is the first spouse from the new marriage to pass away. If there is no prenuptial agreement in the second marriage, it is likely that the surviving spouse will get half of the deceased spouse’s assets, and this may not be what the deceased spouse would have wanted for his or her children from a previous marriage.

While second marriages can present challenges for estate planning, these issues can be resolved if clients are thoughtful and seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney.

A couple of Tips:

  1. New Spouses should discuss their planning together. Avoiding the discussion will only lead to heartache later.
  2. Prior to Marriage, discuss a Prenuptial agreement. If you have not done so, their are other options, such as a QTIP Trust that can achieve the desired outcome.
  3. Be fair and reasonable. Often, children and new spouses do not get along. Remember the everyone of feelings.
  4. Consider discussing your planning with your children. Depending on the family, doing so can make things that much easier. However, on the flip side, there are some situations where discussing these issues with your children will cause more problems.
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Pooled Income Trusts

How to protect your excess income when receiving community Medicaid

A Pooled Income Trust is an option for a disabled individual who has excess income while receiving Community Medicaid Benefits.

Here is how it works:

Recipients of Community Medicaid – those who receive the assistance of a home health aide – are allowed to keep $787 per month of their income. Any additional income, called a “Spendown”, is supposed to be spent down on the individuals care. Therefore, if a Medicaid recipient has income of $1,500 per month, they would be allowed to keep $787 and the remainder would go to the home health aide – with Medicaid paying for any additional costs of the care.

However, for many recipients of Community Based Medicaid, loss of income would prevent them from remaining in their homes. Enter the Pooled Income Trust. A Pooled Income Trust is similar to a bank account, however it administered by a Non-profit Trust Company, such as NYSARC Trust Services or AHRC.

If Mr. Smith has a monthly income of $2,787 in Social Security and pension income, and he is receiving Medicaid benefits for home care in his Long Island home, he has $2,000 in “excess income” under the current Medicaid rules. As a result, Mr. Smith is required to send a check each month in the amount of $2,000 to his home care agency as a contribution to the cost of his care.

However, when Mr. Smith joins a qualified pooled income trust, his $2,000 check will be sent to the trust instead of his home care agency. The trust will then be able to pay any of Mr. Smith’s expenses, such as his utilities, his food, or his clothing, from his own funds or even the taxes on his Long Island home. Mr. Smith will continue to receive his Medicaid home care, as well.

The pooled income trust contains the funds of many disabled persons and is managed by a non-profit organization that maintains separate accounts for each individual. In order to participate in the trust, the disabled person (or his representative acting under durable power of attorney) signs an agreement with the trust. Under this agreement, upon the beneficiary’s death, if there are any remaining funds they are kept by the trust.

Those who wish to participate in a pooled income trust will have to establish that they are disabled, but findings of disability by the Social Security Administration or by Medicaid are valid for this purpose.

New ‘Power of Attorney’ Law – Frequently Asked Questions

By Andrew M. Lamkin, Esq.

On January 27, 2009, Governor Patterson signed into law revisions to the New York laws which powers of attorney. The news laws became effective on September 1, 2009. Many of the changes substantially affect the power of attorney. It is not surprising that, during the execution ceremony, my clients have had many questions regarding some of the changes. The following is a sample of some of the questions I have been posed with.

  1. Is the old Power of Attorney still valid?If the old power of attorney was signed prior to September 1, 2009, it is still valid. However, the new form should be used going forward. Therefore, if you have an unsigned power of attorney, drafted under the old law, you should not sign that form and ask your attorney to prepare a new form for execution.
  2. What is the reason for using the new Power of Attorney form?The purpose of the law is to ensure that the principle is aware of the powers he/she is granting to the agent. The new form also describes the consequences of granting such powers, particularly as it relates to the ability of the agent to make gifts or asset transfers on behalf of the principle.
  3. Is it true that the agents I appoint also need to sign the Power of Attorney? If so, why?Yes, the agent must accept the responsibility and fiduciary duties of serving as an agent. The new form contains instructions to the agent, such as to act in accordance with previous instructions from the principle or in the best interest of the principle, to avoid conflicts that would impair the agents ability to act in the best interest of the principle, keep receipts and a record of all transaction made and keep their property separate from the principles property. While the agent does not need to sign at the same time as the principle, the document is not effective until the date is signed by the agent before a notary public.
  4. Why would I also sign the Statutory Major Gifts Rider?Quite often a Power of Attorney is used to transfer assets out of the name of the principal. The transfer is considered a gift – whether it be given to the agent making the transfer to a 3rd party. In the older version of the POA, the principal could initial next in a box next to the “gifting Power” and thus their agent would have the authority to “gift” on their behalf. The form has additional rider whereby the principal can authorize the agent(s) to gift on his/her behalf. Without using this additional rider (SMGR), the agent will not be allowed to transfer assets on behalf of the principal – thus defeating the purpose of Power of Attorney.
  5. I’ve heard that banks and other financial institutions have in the past refused to accept the Power of Attorney. Are they allowed to do that?It is true that many have previously encountered difficulties with their financial institutions when attempting to use the power of attorney. The new law addresses this issue by making it unlawful to refuse to accept an original (or certified copy of the original) power of attorney. Specifically, the law provides that financial institutions may refuse a power of attorney for “reasonable cause.” The financial institution has reasonable cause if the agent refuses to provide an original or certified copy of the power of attorney, if it has actual knowledge of the death of the principle, if it has actual knowledge of the revocation of the power of attorney, if it has actual knowledge of a report or investigation by the local adult protective services concerning the principle or if it has actual knowledge of the principle incapacity if the power of attorney presented is “Non-Durable.” The new law also goes to the extent to allow a special proceeding to be brought to compel a financial institution to accept the power of attorney.
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Veteran’s Aide and Attendance Program

An additional pension for qualifying veterans

Recently I have had many clients come to my office with a similar problem. They have had to hire a home health aide for their parents or place them into an assisted living facility. The problem that my clients, typically the adult children of a disabled senior, have is that their parent’s income does not cover their living expenses with an aide or the monthly cost of the assisted living facility. When I am confronted with this problem, I have been asking my clients whether one of their parents was a veteran. If one of the parents was in fact a veteran and require the assistance of a home health aide or reside in an assisted living facility, they may be entitled to an additional pension via the Veterans Administration’s (VA) Aid and Attendance Program.

The Aid & Attendance pension provides benefits for veterans and surviving spouses who require the assistance with the activities of daily living (ADL’s). This includes regular attendance of another person to assist in eating, bathing, dressing and undressing. Assisted care in an assisting living facility also qualifies.

The requirements to qualify are as follows. First, it must be established by your physician that you require assistance with the above mentioned activities. Importantly, you do not need to show that you require assistance with all of these activities – only that you cannot function completely on your own.

Second, you must provide the VA with proof of your net worth, net income (including social security, other pension and IRA distributions) and complete breakdown of your monthly expenses, including the cost of the aide, assisted living and other medical expenses.

Qualifying applicants may be entitled to receive up to $1,632 per month to a veteran, $1,055 per month to a surviving spouse, or $1,949 per month to a couple. It should be noted that not every applicant will receive the same pension. The VA will compute the actual needs of the applicant in determining the pension amount. The pension is not contingent on a “service related” injury or condition.

The VA has made it illegal to hire someone to file the application on your behalf, but you can hire an Aid and Attendant Consultant to offer you advice on how to file the claim. You can also contact this office for questions about the program and advice on how to file a claim.

Planning for Families with Disabled Children: Supplemental Needs Trusts

By Andrew M. Lamkin, Esq.

Clients came to my office for advice on how to make arrangements for their 5-year-old son. Their son is autistic and their situation is common to parents who have children with disabilities. Two major problems exist. First, when a disabled child turns 18, the parent loses the ability to make medical and financial decisions for the disabled child. Second, parents, such as my clients, are never sure of the proper way to leave assets to their disabled child and plan for their disabled child’s care when they pass away. Do they leave money to a family member to take care of the disabled child? Do they leave money to the disabled child directly? What happens to government benefits such as Medicaid and SSI? This article will address the second issue.

Autistic children, like most children with any developmental or emotional disability, are entitled to receive government benefits such as Medicaid or SSI. To be eligible for these benefits, the recipient must have less than $13,050 in assets ($2,000 for SSI). Therefore, if a disabled child inherits or received money from a lawsuit, the child will lose his benefits because he will be over the asset threshold.

One option for a parent is to leave money to another person, with instructions to support the disabled child. A common example would be to leave money to another child, with instructions to support their disabled sibling. However, there are problems with this strategy. First, while the disabled child would still receive Medicaid and SSI, there is no legal obligation for the sibling to support the disabled child. The money becomes the property of the sibling and he can do with it what he chooses. Second, the sibling may go through a divorce or be sued for something unrelated to the disabled sibling, such as a car accident where the siblings assets become part of a personal injury suit. Unfortunately, even the assets the sibling is holding for his disabled sibling would be vulnerable to a personal injury lawsuit. If either occurs, the money left for the benefit of the disabled child could be lost.

While the first option of leaving money outright to the disabled child will result in a loss of benefits, the second option carries with it the risk that the assets are not truly protected for the disabled child. The goal is to find a way to protect your child’s benefits, while at the same time, leaving money for his support.

Fortunately, a parent can create a Supplemental Needs Trust (SNT), to solve both issues. An SNT enables a person with a disability to maintain eligibility for government benefits. A parent can establish an SNT during the life of the disabled child (Third Party Intervivos SNT) or pursuant to a Last Will and Testament, which is not funded until the death of the parent (Testamentary SNT).

The logistics are as follows. A parent can leave assets to the SNT, whether through the Will or as a beneficiary of a bank account or insurance policy. A Trustee, presumably the person caring for the disabled child when the parent passes away, is appointed by the parent to manage the money for the disabled child. The Trustee is authorized to use the funds in the Trust for the benefit of the disabled child. The funds can be used by the Trustee to pay rent, credit cards, or other expenditures, such as medical costs (which may not be covered by Medicaid) for the disabled child.

The benefit of creating an SNT is simple. It is the only way to ensure both, that funds will be available to provide for the disabled child and that he will continue to receive SSI and/or Medicaid. Supplemental Needs Trusts should be a consideration for every parent, grandparent and sibling of an individual who receives SSI and/or Medicaid. Everyone has varying circumstances and therefore the proper way to set up an SNT should only be determined after consultation with an attorney experienced with the rules regarding Supplemental Needs Trusts.

Call 516-605-0625 or contact me online to schedule an appointment. I am available to meet with you at your home or my office.

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Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 – Impact on Medicaid

By Andrew M. Lamkin, Esq.

On February 8, 2006, President Bush signed into law the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA). The Act reduces federal entitlement spending for Medicaid, among other federal programs. The Medicaid program pays for services for disabled seniors who meet the eligibility requirements. Most commonly, Medicaid pays for the cost of home health aides and nursing home care.

The effects of the Deficit Reduction Act on Medicaid are significant, especially when applying for nursing home benefits. First, the look back period on asset transfers has been increased from three to five years. When an uncompensated transfer, or gift, is made during this look back period, Medicaid will impose a “penalty period.” The “penalty period” is the length of time during which Medicaid will not pay for the cost of nursing care, during which time the family of the applicant is responsible. At the end of the penalty period, Medicaid will pick up the cost of care. Due to this change in the law, the goal when establishing an estate plan is to protect assets five years before having to apply for Medicaid. Unfortunately, it is difficult to anticipate when a family member may be forced to enter a nursing home. To ensure you are eligible for Medicaid should the need arise; it is advisable to plan well ahead of time.

The second major change as a result of the DRA, is in regard to the start of the penalty period. Under the old law, the penalty period began on the date when the assets were transferred. Depending on the fair market value of the transfer, the penalty period may have expired by the time the application was filed. Therefore, an applicant who transferred assets within the three year look back may have qualified for Medicaid before the time they apply.

Under DRA, however, the penalty period begins when the applicant applies for nursing home benefits. Therefore, any transfer made within the 5 year look-back period will certainly result in a penalty period. This is a drastic change and many applicants will be ineligible for a longer period of time. This will require applicants to pay for the cost of the nursing home with their savings, and perhaps require the sale of the family home.

A common misconception is that if proper planning has not occurred by the time a person enters a nursing home; there is no option other than to exhaust his savings. In reality, this is not the case. The opportunity to protect all of the assets may be lost, but by utilizing a strategy known as “Reverse Rule of Halves,” it is possible to protect up to one-half of the applicant’s assets. In order for this strategy to work, it is vital to transfer assets as soon as the person enters the nursing home.

It is also important to note that there are a few exceptions to transfers made during the look-back period. Transfers made within the look back period to a spouse or disabled child do not result in a penalty period. Furthermore, an applicant can transfer his home to a “caretaker” child. This exception applies only in a situation where a child of the applicant has been residing with the applicant in the applicant’s home for at least two years. In this situation, the applicant can transfer the home to the “caretaker” child while, retaining a life estate.

Fortunately, the eligibility requirements for Community-based Medicaid, where a home health aide is provided, are more lenient than nursing home based applications. Most importantly, there is not a look-back period on assets transfers. Hence, an applicant for Community Medicaid may transfer assets for the purposes of qualifying without the imposition of a penalty period. Therefore, an applicant can transfer assets to anyone in March and be eligible for Community Medicaid in April.

A big concern with community based applications is the “spenddown” requirement imposed on income over $767.00 per month. Any income over this amount must be “spent down” on the cost of care and Medicaid will pay for the remaining cost. For example, if an applicant receives Social Security benefits and a pension totaling $2,500 per month, he is allowed to keep only $767.00 per month. He is required to contribute the difference of $1,733 per month to the cost of the home care aide. If the aide costs more than $1,733 per month, Medicaid will pick up the difference. However, with proper planning and the use of a Pooled Income Trust, it is possible to protect 100% of the applicant’s income and he will not have to contribute to the cost of the home care aide. Therefore, by utilizing a Pooled Income Trust, Medicaid will pay for the entire cost of the home care aide.

Overall, the Deficit Reduction Act makes it more difficult for those in need to qualify for Medicaid benefits. The new provisions are complex and can be difficult to navigate. With these changes, it is even more important for the protection of your family to have a plan in place.

Taking time to speak with an Elder Law attorney can help to devise a plan that will insure that your loved ones receive the necessary care they need, while at the same time protecting their income and assets for their use.

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World Elder Abuse Day

The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) has announced that World Elder Abuse Day 2010 is June 15. According to INPEA somewhere between 4% and 6% of the elder population suffer some form of abuse in the home and even more at risk of abuse in institutions such hospitals and nursing home.

Risk factors for elder abuse include the following: Conflict arising from financial dependence of seniors, frailty and weakness of older people, erosion of bonds between the generations, tensions arising from possible inheritance issues, the growing trend of adult children not living near their aging parents thus creating the need for others to help care for the elderly.

Symptoms of elder abuse include frequent injuries or illnesses that require medical attention, implausible explanations for injuries from caregivers and inconsistent stories from patient and caregiver.

The purpose of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is to raise awareness of the growing problem of elder abuse. If you think that an elderly person is being abused you should contact the Police, the Local Department of Health or an attorney.

Trusts and Taxes

Grantor Trusts

Any Trust which is created by an individual and where the individual transfers assets to the trust and the assets remain in the trust for the lifetime enjoyment of that individual. The Individual is referred to as the Grantor.

Examples of Grantor Trusts and the various Tax implications of each

Revocable Trust – Trust whereby the Grantor reserves the right to revoke any term of the trust during their lifetime. The grantor transfers assets such as property, investments and savings to the trust. The grantor typically names himself and his spouse as Trustee.

  1. Income Taxes– The grantor typically reserves the right to the income that the Trust generates. This includes rental income from property and dividends and interest from investments. As a result any income generated from the Trust is attributed to the grantor. The Tax ID for the Trust can be the social security number of the grantor or they can obtain an EIN from the IRS.It is possible to create a Revocable were the grantor assigns the income of the trust to another individual, such as a child. In this instance, the income is taxed to that beneficiary.
  2. Gift Taxes – Because a revocable trust can be revoked by the Grantor, it is considered an incomplete gift. As such there is no gift tax implications.
  3. Estate Taxes– Assets transferred to a revocable trust are considered to be part of the Grantors estate. Therefore, the value is added to the Grantor’s total estate and used in any estate tax calculation.A revocable trust can include a Credit Shelter provision or QTIP language. In either scenario, the grantor’s assets will pass to a testamentary trust (Credit Shelter Trusts are also disclaimer trusts – meaning that the surviving spouse has to disclaim the assets for them to pass to the trust). The purpose of establishing these trusts is to limit the estate tax liability.

    An example of how it works: Married individuals are worth $5,000,000. If they did not do anything, and one spouse passed away, the surviving spouse would be worth the entire $5,000,000. Upon their passing, the heirs would be responsible for a potentially large estate tax bill.

    By placing assets into a Credit Shelter or QTIP Trust, the assets of the spouse who passes first remain in their estate for tax purpose. The surviving spouse has limited access to those assets, however, the assets do not pass to children until the passing of the second spouse. Because the “disclaimed” assets remain in the estate of the first spouse, the children benefit from the exemptions of each parent. As a result, in the example above, each estate would be values at $2,500,000. Assuming the Federal Estate Tax exemption is $2,500,000, the children would not be responsible for a federal estate tax (there would still be a NY State Estate Tax). However, if they did not plan, assuming the same numbers, the children would be responsible for approximately $1,000,000 in federal estate taxes upon the death of the second parent.

Irrevocable Income Only Trust (IIOT)– Trust whereby the Grantor does not reserve the right to revoke any term of the trust during their lifetime. It is typically done to protect assets against the cost of long term care (home health aide or nursing home)

  1. Income Taxes – The grantor typically reserves the right to the income that the Trust generates. This includes rental income from property and dividends and interest from investments. Often spouses who create a Irrevocable Income Only Trust would create a joint trust. Therefore, an EIN should be requested from the IRS. However, if it is a sole individual, their SSN can be used.
  2. Gift Taxes – An IIOT is also an incomplete gift when the grantor retains an interest income and a limited power of appointment to change the beneficiaries in their Will. No Gift taxes owed.
  3. Estate Taxes – Cannot include Credit Shelter or QTIP language. All assets included in Taxable estate.

Supplemental Needs Trust – Trust whereby the Grantor places assets into a trust for the benefit of a disabled individual.

  1. Income Taxes – New EIN for the Trust is recommended. A tax return will be done for the Trust because the income does not go to the grantor or beneficiary but remains in the trust.
  2. Gift Taxes – When an individual transfers assets to an SNT for the benefit of another individual, they should file a gift tax return if the yearly transfer exceeds $13,000.
  3. Estate Taxes – Included in the estate of the disabled individual.
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Client Case Study: Be Organized, or else

A few months ago, I met with a client who wished to update his Last Will and Testament and learn how to protect his assets against the cost of Long Term Care. He was widowed, had a partner of 10 years and two children from his previous marriage. He was 85 years old. His assets included his primary residence and modest savings, mostly in the form of CD’s.

He wished to leave his assets to his partner and one of his daughters – disinheriting the other daughter. Because of this – and because he wanted to protect his assets – I suggested that he create an Irrevocable Trust. This would help protect his assets in case he had to be placed in a nursing home or require the assistance of a home health aide. More importantly, perhaps, it would allow his estate to avoid the probate process – especially important when disinheriting a child.

Probate is the process of proving the validity of the will and administering the estate. During this process, all children are asked to be involved by consenting to the appointment of the named Executor – including those who are disinherited. Because he wanted to disinherit a child, I thought that the probate process could be difficult for his partner and other daughter.

He decided to take my advise and create a Trust and then transfer his assets to the trust, including the deed to the house. We began the process by drafting and executing the Trust agreement. Unfortunately, he could not find the deed to his house. He took more time to try and locate the deed, but to no avail could not locate it. We eventually found the deed with the assistance of a Title company.

Unfortunately, before we had time to draft and sign the deed, my client passed away. The house, therefore, was not owned by the Trust. Accordingly, the house would pass through the Will, forcing probate. Because the Will states that one of his daughter is not to inherit, we expect there to be a contested proceeding.

It is all too common for individuals not to know exactly where their important documents are located. Whether they be Wills and Trusts, Powers of Attorney and Health Care Proxies, Deeds and Health Insurance information, or a list of bank accounts, it is important that you be organized and know where everything is located so that when the time, comes there are not unnecessary delays that cause unnecessary problems.

Estate Sale Tips

by Rosemarie Davidson

One of the challenges people face when moving to a smaller space is trying to figure out the best way to downsize their homes. Today, there are more options than ever, including online auction sites, charitable donations, traditional garage sales and estate sales.

“The way individuals choose to get rid of their possessions can be a very personal choice,” said Rosemarie Davidson, Owner/Partner of Long Island. “It usually depends on how attached you are to your things, how much time you have to invest, and how much your items are worth.”

Traditional garage sales often require a lot of work and result in very low return, while online auctions and estate sales are typically more profitable and efficient. Online auctions will garner your items both local and national exposure, while estate sales will draw loyal followers.

“These days, most of our clients opt for an estate sale,” Davidson said. “In the long run, an estate sale has all the benefits of the other methods and usually produces a better return on the effort.”

Enlist the Services of a Specialist

For people who do not have a lot of time to invest, an estate sale can be a very positive experience. Estate Sales are managed by professionals, such as Caring Transitions, that coordinate everything for an administrative fee and/or a percent of total sales. This includes doing a home inventory, pricing, advertising and marketing, set up and clean up, donations, heavy lifting, transportation and shipping of items.

The estate sale specialist advertises to a target audience of regular shoppers in addition to broad marketing. The audience that comes to your sale understands the process and is usually ready to buy.

Estate sale specialists know the market and will review your property and determine the approximate value of the sale. Their goal is to ensure you can sustain a profit after the sale is complete. No matter what you have to sell, it is always worth calling a specialist; however, a low-volume sale may not be in your best interest. The specialist will assess the situation and make recommendations based on your unique situation.

Choose Your Service Providers Wisely

It is rare that you will have a “bad” sale experience, but as with any residential service, it is always best to know how to evaluate your providers in order to avoid pitfalls.

Ask for references from any company you employ. You may even want to attend another sale they are managing to see how smoothly it runs. Always use a professional company that specializes in estate sales.

DO follow these guidelines:

  • Hire the specialist you feel you can trust and discuss payment methods before the contract is signed. Some specialists charge an administrative fee or “minimum” to prepare the sale and others include the fees in their commissions.
  • Discuss the specialist’s process for turning over hidden valuables or personal items found in the sorting process.
  • Understand it can take days or even a couple weeks to prepare for a sale. Preparation includes sorting, cleaning, tagging, merchandising the sale, advertising and selling.
  • Be sure you receive an itemized list of the items prior to the sale, as well as a list of the items sold.
  • Allow the specialist to clean the items. Some items are delicate and cleaning may result in damage to valuables.
  • Understand that age does not always equal value in an item. Authenticity is the true guide to value and the item also has to hold its value in today’s market. Your specialist has many resources to help them determine the value of special items.
  • Be sure to reserve the items your family wishes to keep and make sure everyone has a list of those items so they are not included in the sale or sales contract.

DO NOT allow inexperienced friends or family to run your sale. Despite good intentions and best efforts, this rarely produces optimal results and may cost more in the long run as they will have to purchase materials and displays, buy extra advertising, purchase signing and research items. The result is usually something like a failed garage sale, leaving you with a lot of unsold items and very little to show for the items that did sell.

DO NOT throw things away as you get ready for the specialist’s visit. As the saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” The specialist will sort though all the proposed sale items and help you decide what should be included in the sale. Does that include the oversized pea green vase? Yes! You never know who is going to love that green vase, even if you never have.

A skilled specialist understands the local buyer’s market and knows how to merchandise each and every item in the sale to optimize the return. They have display tables, blankets and quilts, jewelry trees, cases, dish displays and more to help create appeal for the buyer.

“Our sales are about honoring a lifetime of possessions and the history behind the home,” said Davidson. “Many of our shoppers find just as much joy sharing in the story of someone else’s life as they do finding the perfect bargain.”

After the sale, your specialists will remove the unsold items, arrange for donation, clean up the area and prepare the home for sale. Companies such as Caring Transitions will manage other facets of the process as well, including arranging for painting and repairs. Each service is slightly different, but true estate sale professionals work to serve you and help determine what is necessary to help you move ahead.

Rosemarie Davidson is Owner/Partner of Caring Transitions, 16 Park Drive Old Bethpage, NY
Phone 516-586-6567 www.caringtransitions.net/plainviewny

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month

For many of us, every day is a chance to promote Down syndrome awareness—advocating for our children to be included in school and community activities, highlighting their talents, giving them opportunities to show just how much they have to share. The calendar, however, provides us with one month during the year when we can really step up those efforts. Here are some suggestions for how you might promote Down syndrome awareness in your community:

  • Distribute NADS posters and bookmarks to area schools, libraries, or businesses (you can order them through the NADS office or the website: www.nads.org)
  • Provide your obstetrician or your family doctor with updates about how your child is doing and, if they are receptive, with family photos or information about Down syndrome
  • Donate books about Down syndrome to your local school or library
  • Talk to your child’s class
  • Arrange for a NADS speaker to give a presentation at your child’s school or at an organization in your community
  • Contact local media about doing a human interest story about your family or about activities involving people with Down syndrome in your area
  • Write a letter to your local paper
  • Organize a special event during October to highlight the gifts of people with Down syndrome—a performance, or an art exhibit or a screening of a movie or video featuring characters with Down syndrome (you could also show the NADS video, Talents that Inspire)
  • Organize a “Down Syndrome Awareness Day” at a local restaurant or community event

October 2010 Public Awareness Activities:

Book Donation:
NADS board members are distributing books on Down syndrome in their local communities.

Artist Showcased:
Michael Johnson, a local artist with Down syndrome, will have his work showcased at Soothe Your Senses Salon, 6260 N. Broadway in Chicago. NADS posters and bookmarks will be available at the Salon as well.

Reverse Trick or Treating:
One family is promoting awareness by reverse trick or treating. This year as they go door to door asking for candy treats throughout the neighborhood on Halloween night, they also will give a treat. A lifesaver stapled to a NADS bookmark with a small label that reads “Thanks for all the support that this community has shown our family. It is their attempt at wider public awareness and it rests on the belief that the simple act of one person saying thank you for kindness can be very powerful. And if a child (especially a child with Down syndrome) gives this to an adult—it’s doubly powerful. What better public awareness can you have?

Suggestions?

If you have any successful public awareness strategies, we would love to hear about them. Please send your stories/suggestions to info@nads.org, and we will share them with others on our website.

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