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Potential Decrease in Federal Gift and Estate Tax Exemption, Did it Pass and Does it Impact You?

A hot topic among our clients is the proposed amendment to the Federal Lifetime Gift & Estate Tax Exclusion and how it may affect their current estate plan.  At this point Congress did not pass the proposed amendment to the law that was to go into effect January 1, 2022.  And there does not seem to be a lot of talk of bringing this to the forefront again for a vote anytime soon.  

The current law doesn’t reduce the exemption until January 1, 2026, when it would revert to $5 million.  The exemption is a lifetime exemption per person and applies to gifts you make during your life or distributions to your beneficiaries after your death.  Any amounts gifted or passed through your estate in excess of the deduction amount will be subject to either federal gift tax or federal estate tax.  

This change will only impact you if your net worth is in excess of $5 million (adjusted for inflation).  If you are like many people, me included, who can only dream of having $5 million dollars of assets in your lifetime then the reduction of the exemption on January 1, 2026, or before, will have no effect on you or your planning.  However, if you do have significant assets you may want to consult a qualified estate planning attorney to determine if you can make additional gifts before the law rolls the exemption amount back to $5 million in approximately 4 years.  The attorney will also be able to advise you if establishing and funding a grantor trust prior to the exemption being reduced would benefit you and help to reduce any federal gift or estate taxes.  Please keep in mind that this law and any changes applies to federal gift and estate taxes and has no effect on the assets or value of the assets subject to Pennsylvania inheritance tax.  Inheritance tax in Pennsylvania is separate and apart from any federal laws and currently inheritance tax is assessed on almost every asset you own with the exception of life insurance.  

For questions on if the proposed changes in the federal gift and estate tax laws in early 2026 will negatively impact you or your estate planning or questions on Pennsylvania inheritance tax, please consult a qualified estate planning attorney for a review of your estate plan.  We would be happy to schedule a time to speak with you regarding your individual situation.  

Please feel free to give us a call if you have any questions or comments at 717-845-5390.

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Why You Should look at LTC Insurance

The bottom line is that LTC (long term care) insurance has come a long way.  There are new types of LTC insurance and even a PA Partnership Care Plan.  We encourage our clients to talk to an agent to determine if it is right for them.  Specifically, we like the riders that keep our clients in their home and in an assisting living facility as long as possible.

I am not a financial advisor, nor am I licensed to sell insurance, nor can I receive any commission from anyone who does. Thus, I have no incentive to say that I think long-term care policies are important; the reasons may be different than what you might expect.  

I always hear the push-back that long-term care insurance is very expensive, and that, in many cases, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Since approximately 2009 Pennsylvania has become a part of something called a partnership care plan.

Essentially, for example, if you have $200,000 of long-term care insurance that pays out, the state will allow you to exempt an additional $200,000 of assets at the time that you enter a nursing home, and still qualify for Medicaid. When the plan first came out, the concern was that the state would take over long-term care insurance, but so far that has not occurred.

I believe the reason is because these are still traditional long-term care policies that, if you don’t use it during your lifetime, you lose its value at your death.

However, more recently long-term care insurance companies have come out with what is called a hybrid policy, which is a life insurance policy that has a rider for long-term care insurance. The main reason that I like long-term care policies, specifically the ones that have riders to provide for care in the home or in the personal care home, is because more and more, people want to live at home as they age and until they die.  

In all of my years of practice, no one has ever told me that they want to go into a nursing home. I often hear that they want to stay home, or they want to stay in a personal care home, but unfortunately, it is too expensive, or the assets will become completely depleted.

Although I understand that long-term care insurance or a long-term care hybrid policy may seem expensive now, trust me, the peace of mind that it will provide later when you or a loved one wants, and is able, to stay home or go to a personal care home, the money spent on the policy which allows you to do so is small compared to the out-of-pocket cost of that care, and, at least as importantly, your peace of mind.  

Although we are fortunate in the state of Pennsylvania to be able to assist people in crisis, we are not as easily able to help people to stay in their homes or in a personal care home.  Do yourself and your family a favor, and if at all possible secure your long-term care insurance now for peace of mind later; the earlier the better.  

If you want to talk about this or any other estate planning matter your wanting more information about, contact us!  

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Considerations For Trust Type

Trusts are a major tool in estate planning.  Trusts can be used for disability planning, probate avoidance, asset protection, and/or tax planning.  Given the high thresholds for federal estate tax planning few individuals are concerned about tax planning.  In this article we want to focus primarily on grantor vs. non-grantor trusts.

When we are educating on trusts and the use of trusts in estate planning, people often get a concept confused. There is a difference between a grantor trust and a non-grantor trust. Simply stated, the assets in a grantor trust remain in the grantor’s Social Security number and are reported on the grantor’s personal income tax return.  For a non-grantor trust a separate tax ID number will be obtained to hold the assets and you will file separate trust tax returns, this return is separate and apart from your personal income tax return. 

We will typically use grantor trusts for asset protection trusts and revocable living trusts.  

However, we often use a non-grantor trusts for VA purposes as well as for estates that have a federal estate tax concern. Currently, a person has a federal estate tax issue if their estate is greater than $12.06 million and for a married couple $24.12 million. It is very rare in our practice to use non-grantor trusts, which require separate tax ID numbers and pay at higher trust tax rates, because not a lot of veterans are doing planning where they have to or want to give up complete control of their assets, and not a lot of estates are big enough to need federal estate tax planning. 

In those situations where we use grantor trusts, we intentionally put language in the trust so that is included in the person’s estate, as well as subject to income tax. We include this language because we want to get a step-up in basis at the death of the decedent, and we also want the parent or client to pay the income taxes, because generally retired clients have a lower income tax burden than their children who are still working. 

There are a lot of other factors that go into what type of trust should be used and under what circumstances, but this provides a basic understanding of the difference between grantor and non-grantor trusts. If you would like to learn more about these and other trust concepts, I invite you to come to one of our free in-house workshops to learn more. We would be more than happy to assist. Just call our office or go to our website to enroll in a workshop at a date and time which is convenient for you.

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CARING FOR LOVED ONES

More and more, as our population ages, many of us are taking care of aging spouses or parents. According to the Mayo Clinic, 33% of adults provide such care. Most caregivers feel an obligation to do so out of love.

However, caregivers often find that providing that care is emotionally and physically, and often financially, draining. It is essential that caregivers know their limits. The danger is that the everyday stresses and challenges of providing such care often lead caregivers to forget about themselves, which can lead to depression, social isolation, financial difficulties, stress, fatigue, loss of interest in activities, frequent pain or headaches, and other effects.

 

When we get on an airplane before we take off the flight attendants always instruct passengers that, if the oxygen masks drop down, be sure to place them on you before you help others. Why? If you pass out from lack of oxygen, you cannot help anyone else, so by taking care of yourself you are in a position to care for others. This is not selfishness – it is a necessity. 

 

When “Mary” first came to see us, her husband of over 40 years had advanced Alzheimer’s and other physical conditions, and qualified for skilled nursing level care. Caring for him was a 24-hour job – he would wander off at all hours of the day and night, and other behaviors and

Mary needed to dispense his medications throughout the day and evening. We immediately sensed that Mary was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but this was her husband, her love, to whom she had pledged herself in sickness and in health. She could not imagine abandoning her “obligation” to him by placing him in a nursing home, and, sadly, they did not qualify for Medicaid Waiver for in-home care.

We worked hard to make her understand that caring for her husband was killing her. As we talked, it became ever clearer that she could not keep up her current pace. I asked Mary how caring for her husband was affecting her; she admitted that she was under constant stress, was depressed, didn’t have any social life, and was generally wearing down. I then asked her what would happen if she were to wear down so much that she died from overwork while caring for her husband. She was startled – she hadn’t considered that. The answer was, there would be no alternative – he would have to go to a nursing home.

 

It took a couple of meetings with her, but she finally came to realize that in the long run, she was not doing her husband any favors by keeping him at home; her best course of action would be to find a great nursing home for him, and visit him frequently and get stronger physically and emotionally herself so she could continue to play an important role in her husband’s life for a long time to come.

 

If you are going to care for a loved one in the twilight of his/her life, then there are things which you should do to maintain your physical and mental health, such as:

 

  • Seek and accept help from family and support groups, including online.
  • Keep connected with family, friends, even clergy.
  • Find out from your loved one’s medical staff, or others, what resources are available to you and your loved one.
  • Give yourself permission to spend “me time” to rejuvenate your physical and mental conditions – then do it! Even a short time for yourself each day can make a huge difference.
  • Maintain good, healthy habits.
  • Exercise – it improves your mood and reduces stress.

 

You should consider all of your options, but always consider your needs as well as your loved one’s. Remember, to be an effective resource for your loved one, you need to put the oxygen mask on first before you can help others!

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Why to use Bellomo & Associates for Medicaid Instead of Doing it Yourself

When it comes to filing an application for Medicaid, the process can be quite daunting.  Hiring a professional at Bellomo & Associates can relieve the pressure on everyone. 

To qualify for Medicaid, you must be determined both medically and financially qualified.  To be medically qualified, you must be assessed by the County Area Agency on Aging and the family or Nursing Home physician.  Becoming financially qualified is the tricky part.  For Community Based Services your monthly income cannot exceed the yearly income limit established by Pennsylvania. For skilled Nursing Home Care your income needs to be below the Cost of Care for that facility.  In addition, you must provide statements for the previous five years for all accounts, verify all transactions over $500, and document all closed accounts. 

How can we help preserve excess assets if you sell the home or car, or even if you transferred or gifted assets?   This is done by a process that follows the rules for Medicaid qualification.  We will review the financials and determine what can be done to get Medicaid approval. 

A single person can have one house, one car, and up to $2,400*,  or possibly as much as $8,000* depending upon their income,  in all accounts.  If you have resources within those limits but have transferred assets for less than Fair Market Value or given a gift over $500, you will not qualify.  You are penalized and must pay privately during this period.  We can help determine the penalty period and establish how the payments to the skilled nursing care will be paid. 

A married couple can have one house, one car, and assets are divided in half with the maximum protected at $130,380* for the Community Spouse, this is the Resource Allowance.  As of 2021 the Community Spouse’s retirement accounts are exempt from the Resource Allowance calculation.  If you file for Medicaid and have assets over the established Resource Allowance, you will be denied Medicaid, and will need to spend the excess over that amount, then refile.  Most likely the excess will be paid to the Nursing Home or private care.  This is another time way Bellomo & Associates can help protect assets and assist in obtaining financial eligibility for Medicaid.

Bellomo & Associates can potentially assist in qualify a single person that has excess assets, has previously made gifts and perhaps even leave a legacy for their beneficiaries. We can also protect the excess assets for the Community Spouse so that the Community Spouse can maintain the same lifestyle and the family legacy.  Requesting help from the team at Bellomo & Associates will ease the process and help preserve what you worked so hard to earn.  

If you are interested in learning more about Medicaid crisis planning, please call our office at 717-845-5390, or click the link here to RSVP to our upcoming workshop to learn more about it.

 

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