Ooops! Did you choose the wrong executor?

You finally got around to making your Will. You deserve a sigh of relief. But did you choose the right executor? Or have you burdened an unqualified or unwilling relative and put your Will at risk to be contested?

Generally speaking, the first person that comes to mind to be one’s executor is often an adult child or other family member, followed perhaps by a close friend. These individuals may be honored that you asked them, and will often accept this important duty. Some may even accept the duty despite not wanting the burden, just so they do not insult you.

Your choice of executor may be an emotional one, but also should be chosen based upon what is best for your estate, probate, and your needs. Choosing the executor of your estate is not a task to take lightly. An executor is the person responsible for managing the administration of a deceased individual’s estate. The time and effort involved will vary with the size of the estate. Even the executor of a small estate will have important duties that must be performed correctly, or the executor may be personally liable to the estate or the beneficiaries. One of the many jobs of the executor is to take an accurate inventory of the deceased individual’s assets. This includes making a list of all bank, brokerage and retirement accounts, insurance policies, real property, and any other assets the deceased owned. An inventory of personal effects, antiques or other valuables must be tabulated as well. A list of the estate’s inventory must ultimately be presented to the probate court for review.

This can be a very time-consuming task, and it may mean going through the deceased individual’s personal data or paperwork for information, interviewing heirs, or checking ownership documents at the local town hall. The information presented to the court is expected to be accurate and complete, so that the beneficiaries receive their inheritance on a timely basis. Of course, the executor must probate the deceased person’s Last Will, which may involve locating and notifying the person’s heirs. As if the demands of the probate process aren’t enough work, creditors must be paid, and final income tax returns must be filed. If the estate is large enough, a state and federal estate tax return may be required as well. Once this is complete, distributions to the estate’s beneficiaries must be calculated and dispersed. Of course, if the deceased person’s Last Will is contested, the executor must oversee this process as well. This may put an additional wedge between friends and/or family members. Further, it can add months and perhaps even years to the process, as well as some unwanted stress for the executor.

Tax laws and state and federal estate tax exclusion rates may be different than when the Will was written. If the surviving spouse plans to file for estate tax portability, an estate tax return may need to be filed even if no tax is owed.

Feel free to call me for an opinion on your choice of executor. If you prefer, I may also act as your executor if you do not have a qualified person in mind. This may remove the potential burden it can place on others and offer many efficiencies and time saving as well.

To learn more about the duties of an executor click here>

Regards,

Brian

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Stay Safe Online This Holiday Season

This holiday season is ripe for a lot of spam, online scams, viruses, malware and ransomware.  All can be at the least annoying and at best extremely costly.

Here are some tips I use to stay safe when online:

•Do not click to open attached files in your email that come from unknown senders. Files with extensions .zip, .pdf, .exe should be a red flag. Also, even if sender appears to be known, i.e. Chase Bank, UPS, that doesn’t mean it is from Chase bank or UPS. A known sender means a friend you have emailed before. Note that even if it is a known sender, if you are not expecting anything be cautious. Look for errors in the message or language. If unsure, call or email that person or company separately—not as a reply email— and ask them if they sent you something.

•Think twice before clicking on links in emails. If your bank or credit card sends you an email with a link, don’t click it. Log in via your bank or credit cards website from your browser. The ‘from’ column of your email may be disguised and read like a familiar or bonafide email address but may actually be from elsewhere.

• Be cautious of any suspicious pop ups of applications showing up on your pc.

• Most email applications will allow you to mark spam as ‘spam’ or ‘junk’. This is a good practice If you get frequent spam from same sender. It should keep the spam from showing up again in your inbox.

For more detailed information about online safety see below.

Yes, you can click theses links from me 🙂

-Brian

https://staysafeonline.org/stay-safe-online

https://securingtomorrow.mcafee.com/consumer/consumer-threat-notices/10-tips-stay-safe-online/

 

You were appointed Executor…Now what?

Being the executor of an estate is not a task to take lightly. An executor is the person responsible for managing the administration of a deceased individual’s estate. Although the time and effort involved will vary with the size of the estate, even if you are the executor of a small estate you will have important duties that must be performed correctly or you may be liable to the estate or the beneficiaries.

Last Will & Testament

The executor is either named in the will or if there is no will, appointed by the court. You do not have to accept the position of executor even if you are named in the will.

The average estate administration takes one year, though you won’t need to work full time on it. Following are some of the duties you may have to perform as executor:

  • Find documents. If there is a will, but you don’t already know where the will is or the will hasn’t already been brought to court, you may need to find it among the deceased’s belongings. If all you have is a copy of the will, you may need to get the original from the lawyer who drafted it. You will also need to get a copy of the death certificate.
  • Hire an attorney. You are not required to hire an attorney, but mistakes can cost you money. You may be personally liable if something goes wrong with the estate or the payment of taxes. An attorney can help you make sure all the proper steps are taken and deadlines met.
  • Apply for probate. If there is a will, the court will grant you letters testamentary. If there is no will, you will receive letters of administration. This will officially begin your work as the executor.
  • Notify interested parties. Notify the beneficiaries of the will, if there is a will, as well as any potential heirs (such as children, siblings, or parents who may or may not be named in a will). In addition, you will have to place an advertisement for potential creditors in a newspaper near where the deceased lived.
  • Manage the deceased’s property. You will need to prepare a list of the deceased’s assets and liabilities, and you may need to collect any property in the hands of other people. One of the executor’s jobs is to protect the property from loss, so you will need to assure the property is kept safe. You will also need to hire an appraiser to find out how much any property is worth. In addition, if the estate includes a business, you may have to make sure the business continues to run.
  • Pay valid claims by creditors. Once the creditors are determined, you will need to pay the deceased’s debts from the estate’s funds. The executor is not personally liable for deceased’s debts. The estate usually pays any reasonable funeral expenses first. Other debts include probate and administration fees and taxes as well as any valid claims filed by creditors.
  • File tax returns. You need to make sure the tax forms are filed within the time frame set under the law. Taxes will include estate taxes and income taxes.
  • Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries. Once the creditors’ claims are clear, the executor is responsible for making sure the beneficiaries get what they are entitled to under the will or under the law, if there is no will. You may be required to sell property in order to fulfill legacies in a will. In addition, you may have to set up any trusts required by the will.
  • Keep accurate records. It is very important to keep accurate records of everything you do. You will need to create a final accounting, which the beneficiaries must review before the distribution of the estate can be finalized. The accounting should include any distributions and expenses as well as any income earned by the estate since the deceased died.
  • File the final accounting with the court. Once the final accounting is approved by the beneficiaries and the court, the court will close the estate. File a final report with the court and close the estate.

All this can be a lot of work, but remember that the executor is entitled to compensation, subject to approval by the court. Keep in mind that the compensation is counted as income, so you will need to declare it on your income taxes.

Removing the burden for an executor and family>

We are proud of our reputation in helping those in need especially around a time of grief. We have provided relief and comfort for countless families while expediting the process and clarifying the ‘legalease’ for our clients. Whether it’s a probate or non-probate estate each client gets the personal attention they need to make the process less of a burden. Feel free to call us for more information or email me personally at braphan@raphanlaw.com.

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How to Find Out if You’re Affected by the Equifax Hack

Article via CNN Moneypadlock.png

You may have never used Equifax yourself — or even heard of it — but the credit reporting agency could still have a treasure trove of your personal information.

Equifax said Thursday that 143 million people could be affected by a recent data breach in which cybercriminals stole information including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and the numbers of some driver’s licenses.

Additionally, credit card numbers for about 209,000 people were exposed, as was “personal identifying information” on roughly 182,000 customers involved in credit report disputes.

Equifax is one of three nationwide credit-reporting companies that track and rate the financial history of U.S. consumers. It gets its data — without you even knowing — from credit card companies, banks, retailers, and lenders.

Equifax will not be contacting everyone who was affected, but will send direct mail notices to those whose credit card numbers or dispute records were accessed.

The company suggests you sign up for credit file monitoring and identity theft protection. It is providing free service for one year through TrustedID Premier — whether or not you’ve been affected by the breach. 

To enroll, go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on the Check Potential Impact tab. You must submit your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number there. At that point you’ll be given a date when you can return to the site and sign up for the service.

The site says once you’ve submitted your information you will receive a message indicating whether you’ve been affected. But it’s unclear when or how you will receive that message.

The company also recommends that you review account statements and credit reports yourself to check for incidents of fraud. You can request a copy of your credit report online at www.annualcreditreport.com. You are allowed a free copy once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

If you see any unauthorized activity, immediately report it to your bank and/or credit card company. If you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you should also contact law enforcement.

Another way to protect yourself is by immediately placing fraud alerts on your credit reports, according to credit expert John Ulzheimer, who previously worked at FICO and Equifax. This means that a lender must contact you to verify your identity before it issues credit in your name. You can place an alert on your report for free by contacting one of the credit agencies, which is required to notify the other two. It will last for 90 days and can be renewed.

Since cybercriminals may have accessed what Ulzheimer calls the “crown jewels of information” at Equifax, he also suggests putting a long term freeze on your credit.

A freeze takes your credit report out of circulation. If someone else goes to take out a loan in your name, the lender will not be able to pull your report and therefore cannot extend the credit. If you want to take out a loan yourself, you’ll have to contact the reporting agency to temporarily lift the freeze. Fees to freeze your account vary by state, but commonly range from $5 to $10. 

“It’s a pretty extreme measure, but when 143 million people have been exposed like this, I think you have to take it,” Ulzheimer said.

The Federal Trade Commission’s website, www.ftc.gov/idtheft, also offers information about how to protect yourself against fraud.

If you have more questions for Equifax, the company has set up a designated call center at 866-447-7559.

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Be Aware of the Kiddie Tax Before Leaving an IRA to Children

family

Grandparents may be tempted to leave an IRA to a grandchild because children have a low tax rate, but the “kiddie tax” could make doing this less beneficial.

An IRA can be a great gift for a grandchild. A young person who inherits an IRA has to take minimum distributions, but because the distributions are based on the beneficiary’s life expectancy, grandchildren’s distributions will be small and allow the IRA to continue to grow. In addition, children are taxed at a lower rate than adults—usually 10 percent.

However, the lower tax rate does not apply to all unearned income. Enacted to prevent parents from lowering their tax burden by shifting investment (unearned) income to children, the so-called “kiddie tax” allows some of a child’s investment income to be taxed at the parent’s rate. For 2017, the first $1,050 of unearned income is tax-free, and the next $1,050 is taxed at the child’s rate. Any additional income is taxed at the parent’s rate, which could be as high as 35 percent. The kiddie tax applies to individuals under age 18, individuals who are age 18 and have earned income that is less than or equal to half their support for the year, and individuals who are age 19 to 23 and full-time students.

If a grandparent leaves an IRA to a grandchild, the grandchild must begin taking required minimum distributions within a year after the grandparent dies. These distributions are unearned income that will be taxed at the parent’s rate if the child receives more than $2,100 of income (in 2017). In addition to IRAs, the kiddie tax applies to other investments that supply income, such as cash, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and real estate.

If grandparents want to leave investments to their grandchildren, they are better off leaving investments that appreciate in value, but don’t supply income until the investment is sold. Grandparents can also leave grandchildren a Roth IRA because the distributions are tax-free.

For more information about leaving an IRA to grandchildren from Kiplinger, click here.

State Properly Valued Sale of Medicaid Applicant’s Life Estate…

life estates

An Ohio appeals court rules that the state correctly valued the sale of a Medicaid applicant’s life estate using the specific state Medicaid life estate law as opposed to the more general law on determining fair market value. Stutz v. Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (Ohio Ct. App., 3rd Dist., No. 15-17-02, Aug. 21, 2017).

Barbara Stutz owned a life estate in her property and her sons owned the remainder interest. She entered a nursing home and applied for Medicaid. The state approved the application but decided the life estate was an asset that must be valued. Ms. Stutz appraised the life estate at $2,000 and sold it to her sons for $1,800. The state determined that the correct life estate value was $24,941, and it imposed a penalty period on Ms. Stutz for an improper transfer of assets.

Ms. Stutz appealed, arguing that the state should have used the general definition of fair market value in state law, which defines fair market value as the going rate that property can be expected to sell for on the open market, to value her life estate. She presented evidence that local realtors and bankers valued her life estate at $2,000. Instead, the state used the state law that applies to Medicaid and life estates and ruled that $24,941 was the correct value. Ms. Stutz appealed to court, and the trial court affirmed the state’s decision.

The Ohio Court of Appeals, 3rd District, affirms, holding that the state properly valued the life estate. According to the court, “a specific statute prevails over a general statute,” so the state correctly used the life-estate-value statute rather than the general fair-market-value statute.

For the full text of this decision, go to: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/3/2017/2017-Ohio-7287.pdf

For more on Medicaid Planning go to: http://www.raphanlaw.com/medicaid-planning-

Medicaid Benefits – House Transfer: Deed Does Not Conflict

Reservation of Power of Appointment in Deed Does Not Conflict With Conveyance of Property to Children

house transfer

A Massachusetts appeals court rules that as part of Medicaid planning, a woman could reserve a power of appointment in a deed conveying property to her children while reserving a life estate for herself. Skye v. Hession (Mass. App. Ct., No. 16-P-282, Apr. 28, 2017).

Margaret Hession sought legal assistance to protect her house in the event she might need Medicaid benefits. As part of the Medicaid planning, she executed a deed transferring her house to her children. The deed reserved a life estate for her and granted her a special power of appointment that allowed her to appoint the property to any person except herself, her creditors, her estate, or her estate’s creditors. Ms. Hession decided her daughter Deaven Skye should inherit less than her other children. She wrote a will that exercised her power of appointment and reduced Ms. Skye’s interest in the property from one-third to 5 percent.

After Ms. Hession died, Ms. Skye objected to the will and argued that the power of appointment was void. The trial court dismissed Ms. Skye’s objection and admitted the will to probate. Ms. Skye appealed, arguing that the provisions in the deed granting the remainder interests and reserving a power of appointment are irreconcilably repugnant to each other.

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals, rules that the reservation of the power of appointment is consistent with the other provisions of the deed. According to the court, “because of the reservation of the life estate, the deed conveyed not present possessory estates but rather remainder interests; and, because of the reservation of the power, the remainder interests were defined, in part, by this limitation.” The court specifically does not express a “view on the effect of the reserved power of appointment on [Ms. Hession’s] strategy of avoiding MassHealth look-back period regulations.”

READ THE TOP 8 MISTAKES IN MEDICAID PLANNING HERE>

8 Pretty Good Things For Seniors To Remember at Tax Time

Tax day, which is April 18th in 2017, is approaching and it is time to begin crossing T’s and dotting I’s in preparation for paying taxes. As tax time draws near, you want to make sure you file all the proper forms and take all deductions you’re entitled to. Following are some things to keep in mind as you prepare your tax form.

elder law nyc

  1. Gifts. Did you give away any money this year? The gift tax can be very confusing. If you gave away more than $14,000 in 2016, you will have to file a Form 709, the gift tax return. This does not necessarily mean you will owe taxes on the money, however.
  2. Medical Expenses. Many types of medical expenses are tax deductible, from hospital stays to hearing aids. To claim the deduction, your medical expenses have to be more than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income.  (For taxpayers 65 and older, this threshold will be 7.5 percent through 2016.) This includes all out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions (including deductibles and co-pays) and Medicare Part B and Part C and Part D premiums. (Medicare Part B premiums are usually deducted out of your Social Security benefits, so be sure to check your 1099 for the amount.) You can only deduct medical expenses you paid during the year, regardless of when the services were provided, and medical expenses are not deductible if they are reimbursable by insurance.
  3. Parental Deduction. If you are caring for your mother or father, you may be able to claim your parent as a dependent on your income taxes. This would allow you to get an exemption $4,050 (in 2016) for him or her.
  4. Long-Term Care Insurance Premiums. Premiums for “qualified” long-term care policies are treated as an unreimbursed medical expense. Long-term care insurance premiums are deductible for the taxpayer, his or her spouse and other dependents.
  5. Social Security Benefits. Although Social Security benefits are generally not taxable, people with substantial income in addition to their Social Security may pay taxes on their benefits. If you file a federal tax return as an individual and your “combined income,” including one half of your Social Security benefits and nontaxable interest income is between $25,000 and $34,000, 50 percent of your Social Security benefits will be considered taxable. If your combined income is above $34,000, 85 percent of your Social Security benefits is subject to income tax.
  6. Home Sale Exclusion. Married couples can exclude from income up to $500,000 in profit on the sale of a home ($250,000 for single individuals). If a surviving spouse sells the home, he or she can still claim the exclusion as long as the house was sold no more than two years after the spouse’s death.
  7. Elderly or Disabled Tax Credit. Some low-income elderly or disabled individuals are entitled to a special tax credit. To be eligible, you must meet income limits. For more information, click here.
  8. Tax Refunds. Getting a federal tax refund should not affect your Medicaid or Social Security benefits. For a year after receiving a tax refund from the federal government, the refund will not be considered income or resources for SSI or Medicaid purposes. You can also transfer the refund within a year without incurring a penalty.

The IRS’s Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program offers free tax help to taxpayers who are 60 and older. For more information, click here. The IRS also publishes a Tax Guide For Seniors.

More Free Helpful Legal Guides for Seniors, click here.

Nursing Home Cannot Sue Resident’s Daughter Who Signed Admission Agreement

medicare denial

A North Carolina appeals court dismisses a breach of contract lawsuit against a nursing home resident’s daughter even though the daughter signed the admission agreement because the resident was named as representative in the agreement. Wrightsville Health Holdings, LLC v. Buckner (N.C. Ct. App., No. COA16-726, Feb. 21, 2017).

When Sharon Buckner entered a nursing home, her daughter, Melissa, signed the admission agreement on her behalf. The agreement stated that Sharon was the “resident” and the “representative,” but Melissa signed the agreement and initialed the portion stating that the representative agreed to personally guarantee payment in the event the resident’s Medicaid application was denied. The nursing home demanded that Melissa pay Sharon’s unpaid bill.

After Melissa refused to pay, the nursing home sued her for breach of contract. Melissa filed a motion to dismiss, and the trial court granted the motion. The nursing home appealed.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirms, holding that Melissa was not liable for breach of contract. The court rules that because Sharon is named as resident and representative under the admission agreement, Melissa’s signature at the bottom of the document “must be read as” Melissa signing on behalf of Sharon and “her signature and initials on the document merely obligated her mother to comply with the terms of the Admission Agreement.”

For the full text of this decision, go to: https://appellate.nccourts.org/opinions/?c=2&pdf=34960

For more about Nursing Home legal issues, click here.

Top 10 Elder Law decisions of 2016

Below, in chronological order, is ElderLawAnswers’ annual roundup of the top 10 elder law decisions for the year just ended, as measured by the number of “unique page views” of our summary of the case.

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1. Medicaid Applicant’s Irrevocable Trust Is an Available Resource Because Trustee Can Make Distributions

An Alabama appeals court rules that a Medicaid applicant’s special needs trust is an available resource because the trustee had discretion to make payments under the trust. Alabama Medicaid Agency v. Hardy (Ala. Civ. App., No. 2140565, Jan. 29, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

2. Trust Is an Available Asset Because Trustees Have Discretion to Make Distributions

A New York appeals court rules that a Medicaid applicant’s trust is an available asset because the trustees have discretion to make distributions to her. In the Matter of Frances Flannery v. Zucker (N.Y. Sup. Ct., App. Div., 4th Dept., No. TP 15-01033, Feb. 11, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

3. Medicaid Applicant Who Transferred Assets in Exchange for Promissory Note May Proceed with Suit Against State

A U.S. district court holds that a Medicaid applicant who was denied Medicaid benefits after transferring assets to her children in exchange for a promissory note may proceed with her claim against the state because Medicaid law confers a private right of action and the Eleventh Amendment does not bar the claim. Ansley v. Lake (U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D. Okla., No. CIV-14-1383-D, March 9, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

4. Mass. Court Bridles at Allegations in Request for Reconsideration in Irrevocable Trust Case

In a strongly worded response to a Medicaid applicant’s request for reconsideration of an unsuccessful appeal involving an irrevocable trust, a Massachusetts trial court strikes the applicant’s pleadings after it takes great exception to the tone of the argument.  Daley v. Sudders (Mass.Super.Ct., No.15-CV-0188-D, March 28, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

5. Caretaker Exception Denied Because Child Did Not Provide Continuous Care

A New Jersey appeals court determines that the caretaker child exception does not apply to a Medicaid applicant who transferred her house to her daughter because the daughter did not provide continuous care for the two years before the Medicaid applicant entered a nursing home. M.K. v. Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services (N.J. Super. Ct., App. Div., No. A-0790-14T3, May 13, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

6. State Can Place Lien on Medicaid Recipient’s Life Estate After Recipient Dies

An Ohio appeals court rules that a deceased Medicaid recipient’s life estate does not extinguish at death for the purposes of Medicaid estate recovery, so the state may place a lien on the property. Phillips v. McCarthy (Ohio Ct. App., 12th Dist., No. CA2015-08-01, May 16, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

7. Attorney Liable to Third-Party Beneficiary of Will for Legal Malpractice

Virginia’s highest court rules that an intended third-party beneficiary of a will may sue the attorney who drafted the will for legal malpractice. Thorsen v. Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Va., No. 150528, June 2, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

8. Nursing Home’s Fraudulent Transfer Claim Against Resident’s Sons Can Move Forward

A U.S. district court rules that a nursing home can proceed with its case against the sons of a resident who transferred the resident’s funds to themselves because the fraudulent transfer claim survived the resident’s death. Kindred Nursing Centers East, LLC v. Estate of Barbara Nyce (U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Vt., No. 5:16-cv-73, June 21, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

9. Irrevocable Trust Is Available Asset Because Medicaid Applicant Retained Some Control

New Hampshire’s highest court rules that a Medicaid applicant’s irrevocable trust is an available asset even though the applicant was not a beneficiary of the trust because the applicant retained a degree of discretionary authority over the trust assets. Petition of Estate of Thea Braiterman (N.H., No. 2015-0395, July 12, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

10. NY Court Rules that  Spouse’s Refusal to Contribute to Care Creates Implied Contract to Repay Benefits

A New York trial court enters judgment against a woman who refused to contribute to her spouse’s nursing home expenses, finding that because she had adequate resources to do so, an implied contract was created between her and the state entitling the state to repayment of Medicaid benefits it paid on the spouse’s behalf. Banks v. Gonzalez (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Pt. 5, No. 452318/15, Aug. 8, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

Feel Free to contact me to see how any of these decisions may affect your personal situation.

-Brian A. Raphan, Esq. 

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