Prudential to Stop Offering Group Long-Term Care Insurance, Giving Buyers One Less Option

If you have been thinking about investing in long-term care insurance when planning for the future, you now, unfortunately, have one less option to consider. Recent news reports that as of August 1 of this year, Prudential Financial Inc will stop selling group long-term care policies in all but five states. According to news sources this makes Prudential the latest in a line of insurers to stop selling the product.

While the growing inevitability of the need for long-term care and how to pay for it is a rising concern for the American public, offering long-term care insurance has not been a profitable practice for insurers. “Most insurers that offer [long-term care insurance] have suffered through sizeable losses. In the early days of the product, insurers underestimated the size and length of claims, and more recently the rate environment has exacerbated the problem.”

If you already have long-term care insurance through Prudential don’t panic, “Prudential said coverage under existing policies would not change, and would remain renewable.” It will be in your best interest to be vigilant, however, considering that Prudential “cautioned that premiums could change, subject to regulatory review.”

If you do not yet have long-term care insurance, never fear, there are still plenty of companies you can turn to for coverage. The National Care Planning Council has an excellent online guide to many aspects of long-term care, but your options and requirements will vary depending on your health, your age, your state of residence, and other factors. Please contact our office for the most up-to-date and relevant options for your family.

Affordable Care Act Likely to Improve Situations of People with Disabilities

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a hot topic lately, and of great concern to people of all walks of life; but people with disabilities, or who rely on government benefits to help them pay for health care and living expenses, have even more at stake in the game and more reason to be concerned. It is this population of elderly or disabled individuals who, according to this recent article in Forbes, have had to (in some states) limit their income in order to continue receiving affordable health insurance through federally funded programs. But hopefully, the ACA is about to change all that.

“The most obvious and most significant health industry reform important to [elderly or disabled individuals] is the elimination of pre?existing conditions as a bar to purchasing private health insurance. However, ACA also eliminates annual or lifetime caps, rescission of insurance policies, non?renewability, and higher premium costs for persons with pre?existing conditions.”

Before the passage of the ACA many disabled persons couldn’t qualify for health insurance from private insurers, leaving public programs such as Medicaid as their only option. The problem with relying on Medicaid is that once your income reaches a certain amount you no longer qualify. For disabled persons with “pre-existing conditions,” losing Medicaid benefits while still unable to qualify for private insurance was equal to disaster, and resulted in many people self-limiting their income.

Now, however, private insurance companies will no longer be able to bar individuals with pre-existing conditions. Thankfully, this should “open the door to many more people to confidently join the workforce, knowing they will not do so at the cost of having medical needs met.”

If you or a loved one has a special needs trust, or would like to know how the ACA may affect your government provided health insurance or benefits, please contact our office.

Changing Tax Law and the Presidential Campaign

Curiosity and excitement are always to be expected in an election year—especially curiosity about taxes. We all know that each presidential candidate has very different philosophies about where the tax burden lies, how much should be paid, and by whom; but all most of us really want to know is how the implementation of each philosophy might affect us personally.

CNN Money recently published an article which attempts to explain just this: each candidate’s position on various tax policies and how it might carry over to our own wallets. The entire article is very informative, but of course the section that will be of most interest to our office and our clients is what the candidates have to say about the Estate tax. Here’s the scoop:

Estate tax: Until the end of this year, estates valued at more than $5.12 million are subject to an estate tax up to a 35% top rate. Barring congressional action, the value of estates subject to the tax will fall to $1 million and be subject to a top rate of 55% next year.

Obama: Would reinstate the estate tax at 2009 levels — meaning estates worth more than $3.5 million would be subject to the tax and face a top rate of 45%.

Romney: Would repeal the estate tax but preserve the gift tax rate at 35%.”

The thing to keep in mind when reading this is that the tax cuts from a few years ago are set to expire at the end of this year. This means that no matter who gets elected, estate tax laws will be changing come January 1st. Now is the time to get your assets in order, take note of any big changes in your life (either personally or financially) and get in touch with your estate planning attorney. Everyone will want to review/update their estate plan this winter, and the earlier you start preparing the better off you’ll be.

Should Zombies Pay Estate Taxes?

How dead do you have to be before the government can tap your estate for estate taxes? Do you have to be only kind of dead, or do you have to be fully dead-dead? This is the subject of a new law review article by Adam Chodorow of the Arizona State University law school, as well as the topic under discussion in this tongue-in-cheek article in the New York Times.

When it comes to the legal rights of the undead Chodorow believes that “The important question is determining whether zombies should be considered truly deceased or partly alive. That distinction is crucial financially.” The article continues searching for answers to this and other particularly unusual questions in a hilarious but educational vein. Never has estate planning been so interesting—or trendy!—and yet readers will find themselves learning a little bit about the law in spite of themselves. Consider the following:

“But there are some tax downsides to zombiedom. When you actually die — for clarity, let’s call this ‘die-die’ — the appreciation in the value of your assets is wiped out for tax purposes. Say a vintage car you bought for $50,000 is worth $100,000 when you die-die. Under I.R.S. rules, this doesn’t cost your heirs taxes on the $50,000 gain when they sell it. Instead, the car is valued at $100,000.”

It’s the Stepped-up basis rule applied to the undead.

The article is obviously written in fun, but it brings up some legal issues that even the living would do well to think about. There have been a lot of changes to gift tax and estate tax law in the past few years, and if you haven’t created your estate plan, or if you have an estate plan but haven’t reviewed or updated it recently, you may have worse things to worry about than a zombie apocalypse. Call our office and make sure your assets and your family are protected from every kind of disaster.

With $5 Million Gift Tax Exclusion Set to Expire, Is Now the Time for You to Give?

When legislation in 2010 raised the lifetime gift tax exclusion amount from $1 million to $5 million many wealthy families rejoiced, expecting that they would now be able to give large gifts to children or grandchildren and be able to save millions in taxes at the same time. But for all the rejoicing, the unsteady economy has made many people cautious, and has parents and grandparents thinking twice before giving away wealth that they may need themselves in later years.

According to this article in Bloomberg Business Week, however, the time has come for families to take a careful look at their finances and decide if they want to take advantage of the $5 Million gift tax exclusion before it expires. “Legislation enacted in 2010, which raised the lifetime gift-tax exclusion to $5 million from $1 million for each person starting last year, is set to expire. For 2012, the inflation- adjusted figure is $5.12 million for each person. It will drop to $1 million on Jan. 1 unless Congress acts.”

Parents who want to take advantage of the gift tax exclusion, but who worry that their children may not yet be ready to handle such a large financial gift, do have options. As the article points out, “Many [families] are setting up irrevocable trusts for children or grandchildren and transferring assets such as second homes that have the potential to appreciate.” This not only allows the assets to appreciate, but also allows parents and grandparents to breathe easy while young children or grandchildren have time to mature before receiving a gift or inheritance.

If you think your family may benefit from taking advantage of the gift tax exclusion before the end of the year, please contact our office. We can help you explore your options and learn more about what legal changes may be in store in the coming year.

How the Supreme Court Ruling on Health Care Reform May Affect Seniors

The recent Supreme Court ruling of the constitutionality of the new health care reforms has many seniors breathing a sigh of relief. The ruling has ensured that, at least for the time being, senior citizens will continue to receive their currently existing benefits from programs such as Medicaid and Medicare; but the ruling also paves the way for changes—some good and some not so good—in the way various home-based and long term care services are paid for and provided.

This article in Forbes explains some of the ways that the ruling on the Affordable Care Act will impact senior citizens or adults with disabilities:

According to the article, Medicaid “currently funds nearly half of all paid long-term care services.” This current coverage will continue under the 2010 health law, but states can refuse to provide new coverage to individuals if they choose.

The Medicare program is currently under some considerable financial strain, and the Affordable Care Act “includes a small increase in the payroll tax that is aimed at increasing revenues for Medicare.” This should be a great help to the program, and a relief to seniors who receive benefits from Medicare.

For seniors and adults who require long-term care services and have been frustrated by numerous roadblocks to getting that care at home instead of in a nursing facility, good news is on the horizon; the ACA “includes important new incentives for states to expand Medicaid long-term care services for people living at home.”

And finally, the law is giving more attention to seniors and adults with chronic and long-term illnesses. The ACA “creates a new office to coordinate the health and long-term care of people who receive both Medicare and Medicaid. . . It also includes important incentives to encourage hospitals, nursing homes, doctors, and other providers to work together to improve care for people with chronic disease.”

Facebook Founders Use GRATs to Avoid Excessive Taxation; You Can Too

News sources recently revealed that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg—as well as other Facebook top brass—use Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts to protect their assets and investments from excessive taxation. Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (more commonly called GRATs) are a perfectly legal—and very efficient—way to protect and pass significant assets from one person to another without incurring an exorbitantly high tax bill.

According to the article cited above, “GRATs offer a perfect vehicle for wealthy investors who put money in start-ups, while other trusts don’t.” But we don’t recommend GRATs only to wealthy startup investors. GRATs are “an excellent way to shift wealth to others at little or no tax cost and with minimal legal and economic risk.” As such, they can be the perfect tool for business owners, professional investors, and many others.

Setting up a GRAT allows the investor/grantor to give assets over to the trust for a pre-determined number of years. During this time the assets appreciate and the grantor receives “annual payments adding up to the asset’s original value plus a return based on a fixed interest rate determined by the Internal Revenue Service.” At the end of the trust term the assets (at their new value) are transferred to the beneficiary named in the trust with none of the usual gift or estate tax on the appreciation.

This makes GRATs sound like the perfect (and perfectly simple) tool, but nothing is perfectly simple. The pre-determined lifetime of your GRAT will depend on your individual circumstances, as well as the tax laws at the time, so you’ll want to make sure you have the help of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney helping you design your trust. Contact our office for more information.

Chesapeake Regional Medical Center Discontinues Geropsychiatric Services

Chesapeake Regional Medical Center recently announced that it is closing its geropsychiatric unit due to a change in federal Medicare funding. This unit treated adults 55 and older who suffered from mental disorders such as depression and dementia.  The geropsychiatric unit was unique because it provided treatment to patients with mental issues who also had medical problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia often require special medical attention because they can become confused and agitated in the unfamiliar hospital environment. With the unit’s closure on July 15, the hospital plans to treat older patients with mental disorders through specialized inpatient services, deciding how to proceed with each patient on case-by-case basis.
According to Kay Ashby, president of the Virginia Beach chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health, the unit’s closing will put pressure on the Hampton Roads community to care for seniors who are experiencing mental problems like Alzheimer’s disease. As the Baby Boomer population grows, so will the number of seniors needing this type of care. The closure of the unit in Chesapeake comes on the heels of other recent cutbacks – Eastern State Hospital, which treats mentally ill adults, has decreased its bed capacity by 40% in the past eight years. As more senior citizens require assistance with mental health issues, it may be a challenge to find adequate treatment. Because of these potential difficulties, it is important that you and your family have a plan in place in the event that you suffer from mental incapacity in the future.

Republican Primary Inspires Discussion of Trusts

If you follow current events at all it is impossible to ignore the fact that we are now in the thick of the Republican primary race—and that the Presidential election will not be far behind. With the political machine in full swing there have been quite a few news stories about the candidates’ financial backgrounds, and more than a little talk of “blind trusts.”

Many of our readers will already know that a blind trust is a vehicle which holds the wealth of a candidate (or a politician serving in office) in an effort to avoid any conflicts of interest. We thought this might be a good opportunity, however, to discuss trusts in general: Which trusts are out there, what are the differences between them, and what purposes do they serve?

Revocable Trust: A revocable trust is one of the most commonly used trusts because it is able to be revoked or changed so long as the grantor (the person who created the trust) is still living. There are many other trusts that fall under the category of “revocable trust”, including a pet trust (which addresses the physical and financial care of your pets), an education trust (which provides for your child’s educational expenses), and many more.

Irrevocable Trust: An irrevocable trust, logically, is one which cannot be revoked or changed after it has been signed. The irrevocability is what makes these trusts useful for tax planning and asset protection. Some types of trusts which fall under the category of “irrevocable trust” include life insurance trusts (which save the beneficiary on the policy from paying exorbitant estate taxes), spendthrift trusts (which reduce the beneficiaries’ estate taxes and protect trust assets from creditors’ claims), and more. It is important to note that any revocable trust becomes irrevocable upon the death of the grantor.

Charitable Trust: A charitable trust is one in which at least one of the beneficiaries is a charity or non-profit. These trusts allow the grantor to claim a portion of their contribution as a charitable deduction under income tax laws. A charitable trust can be either revocable or irrevocable to begin with, but if distributions will be made during the grantor’s lifetime the trust must be irrevocable.

Special Needs Trust: Sometimes also called a “Supplemental Needs Trust”, is a trust created for the benefit of a person receiving government benefits—this usually includes someone with a physical or mental handicap—and its purpose is to allow outside sources to provide the beneficiary with supplemental funds without endangering their right to receive government benefits. A special needs trust can be either revocable or irrevocable, but usually includes a clause instructing that the trust be dissolved if its existence disqualifies the beneficiary for government benefits.

We have only discussed some of the most commonly used trusts here, but there are many, many different kinds of trust which can be valuable for estate planning or asset protection. If you have any questions about trusts or estate planning, please contact our office.

The Bum Rap of Prenups: Why They Are More Romantic Than You Thought

Valentine’s Day is only a couple of weeks away, and love and marriage are in the air; but going hand in hand with love and marriage should be the wisdom to protect yourself and your beloved with a prenuptial agreement. We know that most people don’t consider prenuptial agreements a very romantic gesture, but here are 5 reasons why the bum rap of the prenup is undeserved.

1. Prenups encourage couples to think and talk about the future. The process of writing a prenup includes talking about what each party brings with them to the marriage, and how each partner envisions that contribution fitting into the whole as they create their lives together.

2. Agreeing to a prenup is often the very thing that makes marriage possible for two people who come from complicated backgrounds or disapproving families. This is not only true of young people from families with “old money,” but also of elderly couples whose grown children may disapprove of a blending of finances so late in life.

3. Having a prenup means that a couple has studied their finances separately, dealt with any lingering trouble spots before the wedding, and can now move forward in their marriage together, with clear minds and bright futures.

4. A prenuptial agreement bestows security because it requires the agreement of both partners. This mutual agreement ensures that both partners feel they will be provided for as they desire and deserve, no matter what happens.

5. A prenup is the perfect lead-in to an estate plan. The information-gathering and decision-making process for creating a prenup is very similar to the process of creating an estate plan. Couples who execute a prenup before they marry have a head start on creating the estate plan they will want to protect their family after they’re married.

The bottom line is that prenuptial agreements will help protect you, your beloved, your family, and your future… and there’s nothing more romantic than that. Our firm can help you decide if a prenup is right for you and your partner—contact us today.