Ruggiero Law Blog

Monday, September 29, 2014

Estate planning to protect your IRA

Common Estate Planning Mistakes Regarding Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)

For many people, retirement savings accounts are among the largest assets they have to bequeath to their children and grandchildren in their estate plans.  Sadly, without professional and personally tailored advice about how best to include IRAs in one’s estate plan, there may be a failure to take advantage of techniques that will maximize the amount of assets that will be available for future generations.

Failure to Update Contingent Beneficiaries

Assets in an IRA account usually transfer automatically to the named beneficiaries upon the death of the account holder, outside of the probate process.  If the account holder’s desired beneficiaries change, due to marriage, divorce, or other major life events, it is critically important to update the named beneficiaries as quickly as possible to prevent the asset from passing to an outdated beneficiary.  When updating beneficiaries, account holders should not neglect contingent beneficiaries – those individuals named to receive the asset if the primary named beneficiary is already deceased when the account holder dies.

Example:  Sarah’s IRA documents name her husband, Harold, as the primary beneficiary of her IRA.  The contingent beneficiary is Harold’s son, George, from Harold’s first marriage.  Sarah and Harold divorce.  Harold dies.  If Sarah dies before changing her IRA beneficiaries, George will receive the IRA.  This may no longer be the result Sarah would have wanted.

Failure to Consider a Trust as the Contingent Beneficiary of an IRA


There are three main advantages of naming a trust as the contingent beneficiary of your IRA: 

  1. It avoids the problem described above of having incorrect contingent beneficiaries named at death.
  2. It protects the IRA if the desired beneficiary is a minor, has debt or marital troubles, or is irresponsible with money.
  3. It protects the IRA from intentional or unintentional withdrawal.

Since 2005, the IRS has allowed a type of trust created specifically to be the beneficiary of an IRA.  The IRA Beneficiary Trust is also known as an IRA trust, an IRA stretch trust, an IRA protection trust, or a standalone IRA trust.

The main advantage of using an IRA Beneficiary Trust instead of a standard revocable living trust is that the IRA trust can restrict distributions to ensure compliance with tax rules and minimum distribution requirements – thus maximizing the amount of tax-free growth of the investments.

Another advantage is that the IRA stretch trust has a framework that allows it to be structured in a way that guarantees protection of the distributions from the IRA as well as protection of the principal of the IRA.  When you first establish the IRA protection trust, you structure the trust as either a conduit trust or an accumulation trust.  A conduit trust will pass the required minimum distributions directly to your named beneficiaries, maximizing the tax deferral benefits.  An accumulation trust passes the required minimum distributions into another trust over which a named trustee has discretion to accumulate the funds, resulting in greater asset protection for the benefit of the beneficiary.

During your lifetime, the IRS allows you to switch between the conduit trust and accumulation trust for each of your beneficiaries, as circumstances change.  Furthermore, you may name a “trust protector” who may change the type of trust one last time after your death.  This change may be made on a beneficiary-by-beneficiary basis, so that some of your intended heirs have accumulation trusts for their portion of the IRA and others have conduit trusts.

IRA Beneficiary Trusts are complicated legal documents with intricate IRS rules and tremendous implications for your family’s wealth accumulation for future generations.  Ruggiero Law Offices LLC welcomes the opportunity to work with you to plan your family legacy.


 


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Should I Transfer my home to my Children?

Should I Transfer My Home to My Children?

Most people are aware that probate should be avoided if at all possible. It is an expensive, time-consuming process that exposes your family’s private matters to public scrutiny via the judicial system. It sounds simple enough to just gift your property to your children while you are still alive, so it is not subject to probate upon your death, or to preserve the asset in the event of significant end-of-life medical expenses.

This strategy may offer some potential benefits, but those benefits are far outweighed by the risks. And with other probate-avoidance tools available, such as living trusts, it makes sense to view the risks and benefits of transferring title to your property through a very critical lens.

Potential Advantages:

  • Property titled in the names of your heirs, or with your heirs as joint tenants, is not subject to probate upon your death.
  • If you do not need nursing home care for the first 60 months after the transfer, but later do need such care, the property in question will not be considered for Medicaid eligibility purposes.
  • If you are named on the property’s title at the time of your death, creditors cannot make a claim against the property to satisfy the debt.
  • Your heirs may agree to pay a portion, or all, of the property’s expenses, including taxes, insurance and maintenance.


Potential Disadvantages:

  • It may jeopardize your ability to obtain nursing home care. If you need such care within 60 months of transferring the property, you can be penalized for the gift and may not be eligible for Medicaid for a period of months or years, or will have to find another source to cover the expenses.
  • You lose sole control over your property. Once you are no longer the legal owner, you must get approval from your children in order to sell or refinance the property.
  • If your child files for bankruptcy, or gets divorced, your child’s creditors or former spouse can obtain a legal ownership interest in the property.
  • If you outlive your child, the property may be transferred to your child’s heirs.
  • Potential negative tax consequences: If property is transferred to your child and is later sold, capital gains tax may be due, as your child will not be able to take advantage of the IRS’s primary residence exclusion. You may also lose property tax exemptions. Finally, when the child ultimately sells the property, he or she may pay a higher capital gains tax than if the property was inherited, since inherited property enjoys a stepped-up tax basis as of the date of death.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to estate planning. Transferring ownership of your property to your children while you are still alive may be appropriate for your situation. However, for most this strategy is not recommended due to the significant risks. Contact Ruggiero Law Offices to craft an estate plan that will achieve your goals.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Do I Really Need Advance Directives for Health Care?

Do I Really Need Advance Directives for Health Care?

Many people are confused by advance directives. They are unsure what type of directives are out there, and whether they even need directives at all, especially if they are young. There are several types of advance directives. One is a living will, which communicates what type of life support and medical treatments, such as ventilators or a feeding tube, you wish to receive. Another type is called a health care power of attorney. In a health care power of attorney, you give someone the power to make health care decisions for you in the event are unable to do so for yourself. A third type of advance directive for health care is a do not resuscitate order. A DNR order is a request that you not receive CPR if your heart stops beating or you stop breathing. Depending on the laws in your state, the health care form you execute could include all three types of health care directives, or you may do each individually.

If you are 18 or over, it’s time to establish your health care directives. Although no one thinks they will be in a medical situation requiring a directive at such a young age, it happens every day in the United States. People of all ages are involved in tragic accidents that couldn’t be foreseen and could result in life support being used. If you plan in advance, you can make sure you receive the type of medical care you wish, and you can avoid a lot of heartache to your family, who may be forced to guess what you would want done.

Many people do not want to do health care directives because they may believe some of the common misperceptions that exist about them. People are often frightened to name someone to make health care decisions for them, because they fear they will give up the right to make decisions for themselves. However, an individual always has the right, if he or she is competent, to revoke the directive or make his or her own decisions.  Some also fear they will not be treated if they have a health care directive. This is also a common myth – the directive simply informs caregivers of the person you designate to make health care decisions and the type of treatment you’d like to receive in various situations.  Planning ahead can ensure that your treatment preferences are carried out while providing some peace of mind to your loved ones who are in a position to direct them.


Friday, August 22, 2014

When will I receive my inheritance?

If you’ve been named a beneficiary in a loved one’s estate plan, you’ve likely wondered how long it will take to receive your share of the inheritance after his or her passing.  Unfortunately, there’s no hard or and fast rule that allows an estate planning attorney to answer this question. The length of time it takes to distribute assets in an estate can vary widely depending upon the particular situation.

Some of the factors that will be involved in determining how long it takes to fully administer an estate include whether the estate must be probated with the court, whether assets are difficult to value, whether the decedent had an ownership interest in real estate located in a state other than the state they resided in, whether your state has a state estate (or inheritance) tax, whether the estate must file a federal estate tax return, whether there are a number of creditors that must be dealt with, and of course, whether there are any disputes about the will or trust and if there may be disagreements among the beneficiaries about how things are being handled by the executor or trustee.

Before the distribution of assets to beneficiaries, the executor and trustee must also make certain to identify any creditors because they have an obligation to pay any legally enforceable debts of the decedent with those assets. If there must be a court filed probate action there may be certain waiting periods, or creditor periods, prescribed by state law that may delay things as well and which are out of the control of the executor of the estate.

In some cases, the executor or trustee may make a partial distribution to the beneficiaries during the pending administration but still hold back sufficient assets to cover any income or estate taxes and other administrative fees. That way the beneficiaries can get some benefit but the executor is assured there are assets still in his or her control to pay those final taxes and expenses. Then, once those are fully paid, a final distribution can be made. It is not unusual for the entire process to take 12 months to 18 months (sometime more) to fully complete.

If you’ve been named a beneficiary and are dealing with a trustee or executor who is not properly handling the estate and you have yet to receive your inheritance, Ruggiero Law Offices is ready to advise and represent you.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Pooled Income Trusts - A Part of Medicaid Planning

Pooled Income Trusts and Public Assistance Benefits

A Pooled Income Trust is a special kind of trust that is established by a non-profit organization. This trust allows individuals of any age (typically over 65) to become financially eligible for public assistance benefits (such as Medicaid home care and Supplemental Security Income), while preserving their monthly income in trust for living expenses and supplemental needs. All income received by the beneficiary must be deposited into the Pooled Income Trust.

In order to be eligible to deposit your income into a Pooled Income Trust, you must be disabled as defined by law. For purposes of the Trust, "disabled" typically includes age-related infirmities. The Trust may only be established by a parent, a grandparent, a legal guardian, the individual beneficiary (you), or by a court order. 

Typical individuals who use a Pool Income Trust are: (1) elderly persons living at home who would like to protect their income while accessing Medicaid home care; (2) recipients of public benefit programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid; (3) persons living in an Assisted Living Community under a Medicaid program who would like to protect their income while receiving Medicaid coverage.

Medicaid recipients who deposit their income into a Pooled Income Trust will not be subject to the rules that normally apply to "excess income," meaning that the Trust income will not be considered as available income to be spent down each month. Supplemental payments for the benefit of the Medicaid recipient include: living expenses, including food and clothing; homeowner expenses including real estate taxes, utilities and insurance, rental expenses, supplemental home care services, geriatric care services, entertainment and travel expenses, medical procedures not provided through government assistance, attorney and guardian fees, and any other expense not provided by government assistance programs.  

Work with an experienced elder law attorney to guide you in this matter.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Are your corporate bylaws in compliance with state laws?

Corporate bylaws are a critical component in the foundation of any corporation, partnership or association. Generally speaking, the bylaws establish the rules for internal operations and governance.  While business owners have a large degree of control when it comes to the bylaws, they must be in compliance with state law. Some states have strict mandates on what information must be included, while others may not specify exactly what must be covered and there may not be a set format. However, there are certain things that are typically covered in a company's bylaws.

Bylaws often set forth what officers the company is to have, what the responsibilities are for those officers, and how they are elected. It will also set forth the term of office such as a one, two, or three year term. Most companies also have a board of directors. The bylaws would also set forth how many board members are allowed or required and their term of office. Most of the time the shareholders will elect the board members, and then the board members will elect or appoint the officers of the company. So, the officers report to the board, and the board reports to the shareholders.

Other matters that are often found in the bylaws include the procedure for notifying the board of an upcoming meeting and the timeline for doing so. In addition, the bylaws can establish the number of board members that are required to be present at a meeting for there to be a “quorum” in order to do business and how many votes are needed for something to be approved. One thing that likely will not be in the bylaws but you might want to consider if there will be multiple owners of the business, is a buy-sell agreement. That agreement would outline rights and responsibilities for each owner and generally would provide the right or option to buy out a one of the co-owners’s shares.

It’s important to consult with a business law attorney to make certain that your bylaws are in compliance with all applicable state statutes. Seek legal guidance to help you identify potential pitfalls and minimize any future risks that might harm your company down the line.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Factors that impact Medicaid Eligibility

Joint Bank Accounts and Medicaid Eligibility

Like most governmental benefit programs, there are many myths surrounding Medicaid and eligibility for benefits. One of the most common myths is the belief that only 50% of the funds in a jointly-owned bank account will be considered an asset for the purposes of calculating Medicaid eligibility.

Medicaid is a needs-based program that is administered by the state.  Therefore, many of its eligibility requirements and procedures vary across state lines.  Generally, when an applicant is an owner of a joint bank account the full amount in the account is presumed to belong to the applicant. Regardless of how many other names are listed on the account, 100% of the account balance is typically included when calculating the applicant’s eligibility for Medicaid benefits.    

Why would the state do this? Often, these jointly held bank accounts consist solely of funds contributed by the Medicaid applicant, with the second person added to the account for administrative or convenience purposes, such as writing checks or discussing matters with bank representatives. If a joint owner can document that both parties have contributed funds and the account is truly a “joint” account, the state may value the account differently. Absent clear and convincing evidence, however, the full balance of the joint bank account will be deemed to belong to the applicant.

Working with a knowledgable team of legal and financial advisors will help make sound financial decisions now and in later years. 


Friday, May 16, 2014

Understand the Veteran's Aid & Attendance Benefit

Veteran’s Aid & Attendance Benefit: Get Trustworthy Advice

Many veterans are unaware of the Aid and Attendance benefit, a component of the Veteran’s Administration Improved Pension that was designed to provide much-needed financial help to elderly veterans and their spouses. Even veterans who know about this pension benefit, however, are frequently targeted by scam artists attempting to take advantage of elderly or infirm veterans and their families.

By educating yourself about the Aid and Attendance benefit and learning how to recognize a scam, you can ensure your family gets the help it deserves without falling prey to veteran’s pension fraud.

What is the Aid and Attendance benefit?

The Aid and Attendance benefit provides additional financial benefits to veterans and their surviving spouses, over and above any other veteran’s pension they receive.  The benefit is available if the veteran or spouse requires a regular attendant to accomplish daily living tasks such as eating, bathing, undressing, taking medications, and toileting.  The benefit is also available to veterans and their surviving spouses who are blind, who are patients in a nursing home due to physical or mental incapacity, or who are living in an assisted care facility.

The Aid and Attendance benefit is not limited to veterans with service-related injuries.  Furthermore, it provides assistance to a veteran who is independent but has a sick spouse.  In these situations, the pension benefit provides financial assistance to compensate for the income depletion caused by the care needs of the sick spouse.


How to avoid Aid and Attendance benefit scams

The most common scams target veterans through seminars and other types of outreach programs about the Aid and Attendance benefit.  Usually, they promise to file a claim with the Veteran’s Administration on behalf of the veteran, for a fee, but the claim is never filed or is filed incorrectly.  Not only does this type of scam harm the veteran financially, an incorrectly filed claim could damage the veteran’s ability to get approval of a correctly filed application.

Another type of scam targets homeless veterans.  The scam artist promises to file an Aid and Attendance benefit application for the veteran, in exchange for a monthly fee taken out of the veteran’s benefit check.  The veteran agrees to have the check mailed to the scam artist’s home or business address, and the scam artist takes the entire check or continues to take a monthly fee without performing any work for the vet.

Jim Ruggiero is an Accredited Attorney with the Department of Veterans Affairs. If you or a family member has questions about the Aid and Attendance benefit or any other aspect of veteran’s pensions, please contact Ruggiero Law Offices LLC at 610-889-0288. 

 


Monday, May 12, 2014

First Party Trust- useful tool in Medicaid Planning

First Party and Third Party Pooled Income Trusts, Explained

Generally, a "pooled trust" holds assets for people that have a disability, and/or elderly individuals. The trust is established and run by a not-for-profit organization, which will establish separate accounts for each individual within their system. However, the money of all of the individuals served is added together (in other words, it is pooled together) for investment and management purposes.

There are typically two types of pooled trusts. The first type is sometimes referred to as a "first party" trust. In this type of trust the disabled person places his or her own assets into the trust. Doing so will cause those assets to be non-countable for government benefit programs, such as Medicaid. The trustee of the trust (the not-for-profit organization) can use that person's money to pay for things that Medicaid will not cover. So, the assets are still there for the benefit of the person but their use is restricted. In this type of "first party" trust, any assets that remain when the person dies must be paid to the state up to the amount that the state has paid out for the person's care under the Medicaid program.

The second type of pooled trust is referred to as a "third party" trust. This means that the money did not come from the disabled person. For example, a parent with a disabled child could leave that child's inheritance to a pooled trust for the benefit of the child. The benefit is that the money would still be there for the child but would not disqualify the child from receiving SSI or Medicaid because the money would not be counted for these government programs. Unlike the first party trust, upon the death of the disabled person (in this example, the child) any remaining assets do not have to go to the state but can pass to any other beneficiaries that the parent wanted to have them.

Whether a pooled trust would be of any benefit to you depends upon many factors. Ruggiero Law Offices LLC would be happy to schedule a meeting to your family needs.

 


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Business owners - Evaluate your Lease

Top 3 Real Estate Tips for Small Businesses

The only real estate transaction most small businesses engage in is to enter into a lease for commercial space. Whether you are considering office, manufacturing or retail space, the following three tips will help you navigate the negotiation process so you can avoid costly mistakes.

 

“Base Rent” is Not the Only Rent You Will Pay

Most prospective tenants focus their negotiation efforts on the “base rent,” the fixed monthly amount you will pay under the lease agreement. You may have negotiated a terrific deal on the base rent, but the transaction may not be the best value once other charges are factored in. For example, many commercial lease agreements are “triple net,” meaning that the tenant must also pay for insurance, taxes and other operating expenses. When negotiating “triple net,” ensure you aren't being charged for expenses that do not benefit your space, and that you are paying an amount that is in proportion to the space you utilize in the building. Another provision to watch for is tenant's responsibility to also pay a pro rata share of increases in real estate taxes. 

 

There’s No Such Thing as a “Form Lease”

Most commercial property owners and managers offer prospective tenants a pre-printed lease containing your name and various terms. They present these documents often with a rider, and adamantly explain that it is the landlord’s “typical form lease.” This, however, does not mean you cannot negotiate. Review every provision in the agreement, bearing in mind that all terms are open for discussion and negotiation. Pay particular attention to the specific needs of your business that are not addressed in the “form lease.”

 

Note the Notice Requirements

Your lease agreement may contain many provisions that require you to send notices to the landlord under various circumstances. For example, if you wish to renew or terminate your lease at the end of the term, you will likely owe a notice to the landlord to that effect, and it may be due much earlier than you think – sometimes up to a year or more. Prepare a summary of the key notice requirements contained in your lease agreement, along with the due dates, and add key dates to your calendar to ensure you comply with all notice requirements and do not forfeit any rights under your lease agreement.

 


Friday, April 4, 2014

Protect your Business with the Right Insurance

Protecting Your Business with the Right Insurance

Starting a business is the dream of a lifetime for many Americans. While most entrepreneurs prefer to focus on the aspects of the business that will result in profit, it’s equally important to consider what will happen in the event of an emergency, injury or even sudden death. In preparing for the “worst case scenario”, insurance coverage must be carefully considered. Selecting insurance policies can be challenging; there are dozens of options and the necessity of some will depend largely on the type of business, the number of employees (if any) and the physical location(s).

To help you get started with your planning, we’ve compiled a quick checklist of different types of insurance that all business owners should consider:

General Liability Insurance – Regardless of the type of business or where it is located (even if it is in your home office), all owners should purchase this type of insurance which provides protection if you or your employees cause bodily harm or property damage to a third party. This type of insurance can protect against a customer who brings legal action after taking a sip of hot tea that you served in the reception area or even a vendor who was injured when an item from a closet shelf fell on him during a delivery to your office.

Commercial Property Insurance – If you own an office building, or have valuable business property such as equipment, inventory or tools, you should carefully consider this option which protects your company from any damage or loss which might occur as a result of fire, theft, vandalism, etc. In assessing which policy you need, also take time to consider whether you need business interruption insurance which may protect your business from a loss of earning when you are unable to operate; this may be helpful in the aftermath of a natural disaster where your building is without power for several days.

Product Liability Insurance – If your company manufactures, distributes or retails products to consumers, you might consider purchasing this insurance which protects against financial loss suffered as a result of a product defect that causes injury to the user.

Business Owners Policy (BOP) – This type of package is essentially a bundle offering of all of the required policies that a business owner would need. This will often include property, liability, vehicle, business interruption, etc. These policies often save business owners more money than if they were to purchase each one separately.

Professional Liability Insurance – If you provide a professional service to consumers, you may consider carrying this type of coverage which provides defense and damages for improperly rendering professional services, or failure to deliver them at all. Depending on your industry, this insurance may be mandated by your state. Professional liability insurance has become quite standard among healthcare professionals, attorneys, veterinarians, pharmacists and architects.

Commercial Auto Insurance – If you have a single vehicle, or an entire fleet, that is used to carry employees, equipment or products, you should consider purchasing commercial auto insurance which protects from damages and collisions. If your employees use their own vehicles, you may have the option to purchase non-owned auto liability, which protects your business in the event that an employee has an accident but does not have sufficient coverage to pay for the damages.

Data Breach Insurance – Also known as cyber insurance, this type of policy protects against any damages incurred as a result of a hacking attack or loss of sensitive client date. Due in large part to recent high-profile data breaches where customers’ credit card numbers were compromised, one in three U.S. companies now carries this type of coverage.

Directors and Officers Liability Insurance – This type of insurance protects your board of directors and officers from any legal action resulting from their performance of duties as it relates to your company. Many investors and potential board members will require this type of policy to ensure their personal assets are not jeopardized.

Life Insurance – In a company where there are multiple shareholders, it’s not uncommon to find life insurance policies in the mix. Generally, the policy is structured in such a way that upon the passing of one of the shareholders, the remaining shareholders or the company will receive compensation so they can buy out the shares of the deceased. This can help to protect the business and ensure continuity despite the loss of one of its leaders. In small businesses, a partner may purchase a life insurance policy on a fellow partner or key employee who is crucial to the business. The reasoning behind this coverage is that in the absence of this individual, the company would suffer severely and could even lead to its closing.

If your business has employees, there are a number of other policies which you will want to consider. These include:

Workers Compensation Insurance – As the name explains, this insurance simply provides wage replacement and covers medical expenses for employees who are injured on the job. All states require this type of coverage if you have any W2 employees.

Disability Insurance – This type of employer-sponsored insurance provides income replacement to disabled employees who are unable to work and receive their regular wages. This type of coverage is only required by law in five states: California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.

Unemployment Insurance Tax – While you don’t have to purchase an unemployment insurance policy, any company with employees must pay unemployment insurance taxes as determined by the state. This program is designed to provide benefits to unemployed workers who have been terminated by no fault of their own (e.g. think of a company that has major cut backs and “lays off” an employee). It’s important that you consult with your state’s workforce agency for up to date information and to learn what’s required of you.

In some cases, your state may require certain insurance coverage based on your industry and the services or product provided. To ensure compliance and make sure you properly protect your business and your own personal assets, it’s important that you consult a knowledgeable business law attorney and insurance advisor who can advise you on the best course of action and review your needs annually.


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