Should I Create a Life Estate or an Irrevocable Trust?

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.

Creating A Life Estate or Irrevocable Trust

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

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.

Responsibilities of an Executor Or Administrator

Today we will discuss the basic duties and responsibilities of an executor or an administrator.

But first, what is an executor? An executor is someone who is legally responsible for sorting out the affairs of the deceased individual. The executor must carry out their duties diligently, impartially, and honestly. An executor who fails to do so may be held personally liable by a court of law. Each state has its own requirements as to who can serve as an executor or administrator but generally, the roles are very similar. The position of executor is a paid position and each state provides its own rules for executor compensation. However, because executors are usually close family members, many executors forgo their compensation.

what are your responsibilities if you’re appointed as an executor or administrator?

And what is an administrator?  An administrator is someone who is appointed by the Surrogate Court to be legally responsible for the decedent’s affairs. The difference between an estate executor and an estate administrator depends on if the deceased left a will, named an executor, or if the named executor declined the appointment. Therefore, if the decedent did not leave a will (dying intestate), does not name an executor in their Will, or a listed executor declines the appointment, the court will choose the administrator of the estate. The administrator must then make sure the estate is settled according to New York intestacy laws which is what an executor does anyways. 

Both the Executor and the Administrator are responsible for making sure that debts and taxes are paid and that what remains in the estate is distributed properly to the heirs of the estate, according to the wishes of the decedent. Both executors and an administrator have the same responsibilities to the state and to the deceased’s beneficiaries. 

The Executor’s or Administrator’s Responsibilities Include The Following:

  1. Determine If Probate Is Necessary

Probate is the legal procedure an estate goes through after someone passes away. This procedure is how the surrogate court will start the process of distributing the estate to the proper heirs that the decedent designates. Many assets can be transferred to beneficiaries simply by law (and avoid the probate process) such as jointly held assets or assets that have beneficiary designations (ie. life insurance policies). If all of the decedent’s property falls into this category probate may not be necessary. Additionally, the decedent may have transferred all of their property to a revocable (living) trust which similarly does not need to go through probate. If, however, the decedent owned assets outright, meaning they’re simply stated in a will, those assets do not automatically transfer upon their death. Instead, probate will be required and the executor or administrator will need to file a petition with the court to be legally assigned as the executor. It is highly advisable to work with an attorney to probate the estate.

  1. File the Original Will With the Local Surrogate Court

The executor is responsible for locating, reading, and understanding the will to determine who will inherit the decedent’s assets. Generally, only an original will can be submitted to the surrogate court to go through probate. An experienced estate planning attorney can assist with this duty.

  1. Notify Financial Institutions & Government Agencies of the Decedent’s Death

The executor should notify the decedent’s banks, credit card companies, and government agencies like the Social Security Administration of the decedent’s death.

  1. Set up a Bank Account for Incoming Funds and Pay Any Ongoing Bills 

The executor has to set up an estate account with a bank so the decedent’s assets can be transferred to it. The account will be used for the ultimate distribution of the assets to any creditors and heirs. The executor should also use this account to pay the decedent’s mortgages, utilities, and other bills that still need to be paid throughout the probate process.

  1. Maintain the Property Until It Can Be Distributed or Sold

The executor has to find, protect and preserve all of the decedent’s assets until they can be distributed. This includes any real property (houses, cars, boats, etc...) owned by the decedent until it is distributed to heirs or sold.

  1. Pay the Estate’s Debts and Taxes

The executor is obligated to pay the decedent’s debts if there are sufficient assets in the estate to cover them. The executor must also file income tax returns starting from January 1st of the current year until the date of the decedent’s death. If the estate is large enough, a Federal estate tax return will need to be filed. Also, if the decedent’s estate exceeds the estate tax exemption in the year of the decedent’s death, state and federal estate taxes may have to be paid.

  1. Distribute Assets

The most common responsibility of the executor or administrator is that they must distribute the decedent’s assets pursuant to the will’s directives. This is after a surrogate court judge has validated the will.  If there is no will, state intestacy laws apply and the administrator will carry out almost all of the same responsibilities as an executor. 

  1. File an Inventory of the Estate’s Assets With the Court

Once the executor knows all the assets in the estate and distributes them pursuant to the will the executor must file an inventory of the assets with the Surrogate Court.

How can an estate lawyer help

Since each estate varies in size and complexity, an executor’s job may be fairly simple or very challenging to carry out. Responsibilities may very well go beyond the 10 common duties in this list. Consulting with an experienced and knowledgeable estate planning attorney is certainly recommended.

For further estate planning assistance, please contact the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn at (718) 333-2395 to receive the most highly qualified legal advice. 

Can Creditors Take My Social Security Checks?

Creditors generally cannot seize Social Security benefits, even if they have sued you and obtained a court judgment against you. However, there are some limited exceptions to this rule for certain types of government debts which are detailed below.

credit or ssocial security

Are Social Security benefits protected by law?

Yes. Creditors cannot garnish or confiscate Social Security benefits, whether they be retirement, disability, survivor's benefits, or SSI, with the exception of certain federal agencies. This safeguard has been codified into law by Congress. This means that conventional creditors, such as credit card companies, medical collectors, and loan businesses, are prohibited from taking Social Security benefits if it is evident that the money they want is Social Security income. 

Does it matter if the creditor has sued me in court? 

No. Even if the creditor obtains a court judgment against you, these rights apply. You may not be able to pay the judgment with Social Security funds if the court rules against you. As a result, if you are sued for a debt, it is critical that you do not enter into any agreed orders or judgments that require you to pay a debt with your Social Security benefits.

Do these protections exist if the Social Security money is deposited into a bank account? 

Yes. Once funds are placed in a bank, they are protected against garnishment or confiscation. The Court, on the other hand, must be able to distinguish between exempt and non-exempt funds.

If the Court cannot tell whether money is Social Security income from your documents and bank statements, the Court will most likely rule that none of the money is exempt. If Social Security income is directly deposited into a bank account, the statement will reflect a deposit from the United States Treasury at about the same time each month. To make it evident that the Social Security Administration is the only source of funds in the account, the direct deposit from the US Treasury should be the only deposit reported on the bank statement each month. This will show creditors and a court that the money in your bank account is protected income.

What if a collection agency threatens to take my Social Security? 

By making false assertions, the collection agency may be breaking the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (a federal law that regulates collection agencies). Only if the creditor or collection agency knows that your only source of income is Social Security would these statements be false. You should seek legal assistance if you believe you have legal claims against the collecting agency. 

Can government agencies take my Social Security benefits? 

Yes, but only under limited circumstances.

First, SSI (Supplemental Security Income) cannot be taken at all, unless the Social Security Administration is trying to correct incorrect past payments.

Only federal agencies may try to take Social Security benefits. Examples of some things the federal agencies can try to take your Social Security benefits for are:

  • Federally subsidized student loans.   
  • Other loans owed to, or subsidized by the government.   
  • Food stamp overpayments.   

Can the federal agency take my whole Social Security payment?

No, a government agency can only take a portion of your Social Security check each month.

The first $750 per month (or $9000 per year) is not confiscatable. As a result, if your monthly benefits are less than $750, your benefits cannot be taken.

Can I protest the government’s action? 

Yes. You have the right to get written notice in advance if the government plans to "offset" (take a portion of) your Social Security income. If you believe you do not owe the money, you have the right to a hearing. You might want to seek legal counsel. Another option is to work out a payment plan with the government entity that is threatening to withhold your Social Security income.

Can I get rid of the government debt in bankruptcy? 

Yes, in a lot of circumstances. However, there are certain noteworthy exceptions, such as:

  • Student debts are normally non-dischargeable, and income taxes can only be forgiven in certain situations.
  • If the person or entity to whom you owe the money establishes you collected the obligation by false pretenses or fraud, the debt will not be dismissed.

If you need an experienced attorney to review your financial circumstances and the nature of debts to help you decide the best course of action, please contact the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn at (718) 333-2395.

How to Prepare a Loved One for the Possibility of Dementia?

Everything in life isn’t guaranteed and a life, where the best for you and your loved ones is not ensured, is scary. Having a plan for when those unexpected times arise in your life is the best way to ensure you and your loved ones are taken care of. Those approaching their elder years should be one of the first to ensure these plans are in place. Events such as an accident, stroke, heart attack, or something as serious as dementia can be extremely troublesome without the best plan in place. Not only should you consider making plans for your own well-being but encourage your loved ones to do so as well. This will ensure that a designated individual will be able to step in when times like this may occur in your life. 

How to Prepare a Loved One for the Possibility of Dementia?

Discussing Legal, Financial, and Health Care Planning With Loved Ones

Though having such a difficult conversation with the people you love may be uncomfortable, the end goal is for you and your family to ensure everyone is taken care of, no matter what obstacles life throws at you. If you wait until your loved one is incapacitated or needs a caregiver it will be extremely hard, legally and emotionally, to be able to care for them when they need you the most. If this occurs you would need to endure the lengthy and complex process of guardianship in order to be able to control a loved one’s medical care and finances. Why put you and your family through this process when you can make a plan beforehand. 

Timing Is Extremely Important 

Getting your Elder Care planning done in advance is crucial, as in order to be able to sign all the legal documents in the process, one must be physically and mentally able to. In instances such as Dementia, early diagnosis can still hinder an individual’s ability to make decisions. In some cases, a senior may still be able to sign legal documents but this all depends on the progression of the disease and circumstances differ. This actively demonstrates why it is important to plan earlier rather than later. Though it can be difficult to bring up these matters with a loved one, you should try to make it clear that you intend to protect them and ensure that all their assets and life are put in the best scenario possible. 

Crucial Documents Needed for Elder Care Planning 

  1. Last Will and Testament: A last will and testament is the first step in any Elder Care planning and indicates your wishes when you pass. This document indicates what is done with your assets and ensures your interests are met. We never know when we may pass and this document makes sure not only your interests are met but your loved ones are taken care of when this happens. 
  2. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: This is a document that will allow an individual to designate a person to make any medical decisions for them if they become incapacitated or unable to. Some decisions include choosing health care providers, nursing care, treatment, and end-of-life care. This document allows the individual to obtain medical records on your behalf as well. This is ideal for anyone as health can change, especially as you continue to get older, and this document will make sure you are taken care of if things don’t go as planned. Those with Dementia are not guaranteed a specific time frame for how fast the disease will progress so having a Health Care Power of Attorney will give them and their loved ones peace of mind when their loved one can no longer make decisions for themselves. 
  3. Durable Power of Attorney for Finances: This is a document similar to the Power of Attorney for Health Care, and allows you to designate an individual to make financial decisions for you when you become unable to do so for yourself. Some decisions that can be made on your behalf with this document include managing investments, selling property, taxes, and paying bills. This document is needed, as not only will your estate and assets be protected, but your interests will also be met if you ever become incapacitated. Why let a disease like Dementia or a medical condition stop your family from making sure your assets are taken care of when you can plan ahead. 
  4. Living Will: A living will is a healthcare directive that is drafted in advance to indicate an individual’s wish for end-of-life care or a serious medical crisis. This will be a clear indication of what you want to be done in regards to treatment if you are unable to and if the situation is life-ending. This document contains the instructions for the medical Power of Attorney and is important in the Elder Care planning process as leaving decisions like this to your loved ones will cause an immense amount of pain and regret. Your loved ones will not be left wondering what you would have wanted, but instead, know exactly what you want. 

Hiring an Elder Care Attorney 

Elder Care planning is hard on families and may not be the desired conversation, but it’s definitely a crucial step to ensuring your loved ones and you are taken care of at all times. Sitting down and creating a plan for what will happen in times of illness or losses is the start of your Elder Care planning. An Elder Care attorney can help make this process easier and ensure all your interests are met in a professional and legally binding manner. An attorney will inform you of all your options, and ensure all documents are legally binding and accurate. Discussing Elder Care options is hard enough for you and your family that’s why hiring an Elder Care attorney will allow you the peace of mind that your plans are in place in times of hardship. An attorney will help with the drafting of your Last will and testament, Power of Attorneys, and Living will, so you are ensured the best care. 

For further information on how to start your Elder Care planning please contact the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn at 718-333-2395 to obtain aid in the drafting of legal documents and help with any of your Elder Care needs.

Why Elder Law Attorneys Aren’t Just For Seniors?

An Elder Law Attorney serves as an advocate for the elderly and their loved ones when it comes to the legal issues related to healthcare and financial assets. Individuals who have reached an old age or are approaching the 65 benchmark should consider hiring an Elder Law attorney to assist them with the matter of retirement, social security, Medicaid, long term care planning, guardianship, disability, etc. An Elder Care Attorney will address the importance of creating an estate plan composed of a will, trust, health care proxy, power of attorney, and letter of intent in order to effectively prepare for the future. There are numerous benefits to hiring an Elder Law attorney, some of which include guidance in long term care planning, assistance in creating a durable power of attorney, aid in receiving Social Security benefits, and protection against elder abuse. Elder Law Attorneys are specialists in their field, as they have much experience handling similar cases related to the specific needs of seniors. The attorney will utilize a holistic approach in ensuring that the key issues pertaining to long-term care, housing, well-being, and financial asset protection adhere to the wishes of the elderly individual. In terms of requiring assistance in creating trusts and wills for an elderly loved one, an esteemed Elder Attorney will be able to guarantee that the documents have the individual’s best interests at heart. The lawyer will work with you to protect your assets in the best manner possible to ensure that necessary payments are made on the home and other personal costs, while making sure that there is no form of financial exploitation of assets that could harm your loved ones.

Elder Law Attorneys Aren't Just for the Elderly

Benefits to Hiring and Elder Care Attorney:

1)Guidance in long term care planning

In the case that an individual’s physical and mental health declines, a long-term care facility is typically the most effective plan of care for the individual. When considering which long-term care facility is most effective for your loved one’s needs be sure to also note that the payment plan for this facility is within your price range. An Elder Care Attorney can assist you in obtaining long-term care insurance that will help cover the expenses of care, as prices are on the rise in NY. In the case that long-term care insurance is out of your financial budget, an Elder Care Attorney can assist in qualifying for Medicaid. You are guaranteed to make the best long term care decision possible for your loved one if you seek proper instruction and assistance from an experienced attorney.

2)Assistance in creating a durable power of attorney

A durable power of attorney serves to grant a third party the ability to make decisions and take actions on behalf of the individual who has become incapacitated, as they are no longer able to make decisions independently. An Elder Care Attorney prefers a durable power of attorney rather than just the typical power of attorney because the durable document remains functional even after the individual loses the ability to make decisions for themselves. On the contrary, the typical document would only function if the individual has not become mentally incapacitated. An attorney will guide you through the process of filling out this document to ensure that your future is well planned for. 

3) Aid in receiving Social Security Benefits

An Elder Care Attorney works to guarantee that you are receiving all of the benefits you deserve based on your current age and overall health. Once you reach the age of 67 you are subject to receive the full Social Security benefits. If you have reached this age and are not receiving your full benefits, an attorney will advocate on your behalf and work to grant you your benefits. If you have a disability and are subject to receive disability benefits, then the attorney will assist you in obtaining those benefits by following a similar legal procedure. According to NY State regulations, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) guarantees that you may begin collecting benefits after 6 months since the start of your disability. With the support of an esteemed Elder Care Attorney, you will certainly receive all of the benefits you rightfully deserve.

4)Protection against elder abuse

With the current foundation, research has shown that many elderly residents in nursing homes are facing unjust treatment. An Elder Care Attorney will work with you by representing your loved ones who have been the victims of physical violence, emotional mistreatment, or financial fraud. The attorney will not just provide guidance on the following steps, but will ensure that justice is served and your loved one will never be treated in this manner ever again. The attorney will advocate for the rights of your loved one to guarantee that they are being properly cared for and looked after, especially during these troubling and challenging times.

So, In Sum, Why Elder Law Attorneys Aren’t Just For Seniors?

Elder Law Attorneys work to assist individuals in creating a plan for their future to ensure that the individuals interests and best wishes are clearly declared. These individuals are not always seniors. As a matter of fact, it is recommended that you hire an Elder Care Attorney prior to the age of 65. It is always better to be prepared for anything, rather than procrastinate on preparing for your future. Many individuals fall victim to the assumption that they have an unlimited period of time left to get all of their assets and legal information together. The unfortunate truth is that life is inexplicable and unexpected events can occur at any point in time. In the case that an individual does not have an elder care in place prior to the point in time when they biome incapacitated, then their loved ones must embark in the costly and lengthy process of earning the legal authority to act on their loved one’s behalf. It is encouraged that you avoid waiting because the guardianship legal procedures associated with waiting too long to create an elder care plan are very complex and expensive. If individuals do not take the time to create a will, then they will not be able to decide how they would like their assets to be distributed or how their minor children would be cared for. The court would then be responsible for distributing your assets and estates, which may not align with your wishes. It is certainly better to be well prepared ahead of time, rather than at a loss when the time comes. Make the decision today to protect yourself and your loved ones by hiring an Elder Care Attorney to draft all of your legal documents and create a plan for the future. 

For Elder Care inquiries please contact the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn at 718-333-2395 to best prepare your legal documents for the future.