As you are getting older, Asset protection and Elder Law planning becomes relevant. As you are researching an optimal estate plan to preserve assets from nursing home bills, a life estate deed transfer may initially sound appealing. After all, a life estate deed is a legal means for transferring home ownership rights. However, there are downsides you must fully understand before making this commitment. Prior to making the decision of adopting a life estate, it is crucial to fully understand the risks.
Life estates are characterized by two or more people having ownership over a property for non-overlapping periods of time. These parties are the life tenant and the remainderman. The life tenant owns the life estate and has full control during their life. The remainderman has ownership interest upon the death of the life tenant.
In many circumstances, executing a life estate makes the most sense. It is useful for those looking to simplify estate planning and avoiding the probate process. The transfer of the property to the remainderman is automatic, providing convenience without the need for a will. For example, parents can easily pass homeownership to their children while possessing their property for their entire lives. This provides transparency to the beneficiaries and affirms the life tenant exactly what will happen to their property when they pass away.
Additionally, a life estate deed protects the property from a Medicaid lien and increases the tax basis. If eligible for Medicaid, the government may try to recover the costs of care from their estate once they pass away. A life estate protects the home from being included in the Medicaid recovery process.
Although a life estate may seem appealing, some caveats come with them. There are three main unfavorable aspects. If you consider these reasons as dealbreakers, a life estate will not work for your personal estate goals.
Real Estate Related Challenges
Upon establishing a life estate, obstacles will arise if you plan to sell or mortgage property. The remainderman must agree if you decide to borrow or sell against the property. Nevertheless, this can be solved with a Testamentary Power of Appointment in the Deed. This allows life tenants to change who receives their property by directing its disposition in their will. While it won’t sell the property, it gives the life tenant more leverage in negotiation over the remainderman. An alternative to this is the Nominee Realty Trust, where one or more children act as Trustees for all so that decisions must be followed on a majority vote.
Another obstacle is that if the property is sold, the remainderman is entitled to a portion of the profits equal to what their interest is determined to be at that time. It is also difficult to remove or change a name once it is on a real estate deed.
Legal Responsibility of Remainderman
The problems of the remainderman become your problem as well. If this individual is in any legal predicament, such as being sued, getting a divorce, owing taxes, or filing for bankruptcy, the interest in the home is not protected. However, while claims can be made against the property, nobody can kick you out for the duration of your lifespan.
Medicaid and State Assistance Disqualification
Giving away an interest in the property could result in disqualification from Medicaid assistance, should you need long-term care within five years of the transfer. To add on, that state could file a claim against the income portion of the payments it has made on your behalf. In this case, at least the portion of the proceeds allocated to your child would be protected.
Irrevocable trust is a much better alternative to protect your property from creditors including Medicaid liens and nursing home costs. For more information on irrevocable trust, please contact the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn at (718) 333-2395.