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Estate planning and the Dysfunctional Family

Over my career as an estate planning and elder law attorney, I swear I have seen just about everything.  I cannot remember a fact pattern that surprised me or took me aback.  I am honestly at the point now where I think that dysfunctional is the norm for the common family that we assist.  I’m not sure if it’s because we specialize in estate planning and elder law and we get referrals and cases that are more complex and more advanced than others, or if that is just the norm these days.  My gut says it is probably the latter. 

I did some research to define the word dysfunctional, and there is no clear-cut definition.  But my gut would say that dysfunctional would include families such as second marriages with kids to different relationships, as well as addictions or spendthrift issues, or just family dynamics in in-tact families where people do not care for each other.  Again, I think this is probably the norm more than any exception.  

It is imperative that families are open and honest with their attorney so that the attorney can put a plan in place that addresses what they need for their specific situation.  Dysfunction does not present as the same fact pattern in any two cases, and therefore an experienced estate planning attorney is needed to be able to dot the I’s and cross the T’s.  Be very wary of the do-it-yourself sites or general practice attorneys who don’t specialize in this area if there is a complex fact pattern for you and your family. 

We love assisting any and all families and certainly love putting the fun in dysfunctional. We look forward to providing an estate plan that is unique for you and your family, whether you are dysfunctional or as functional as anyone else. 

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

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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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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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Do You Need a Trust?

This question is by far the most asked question that we receive in our office. However, there is absolutely no standard or right answer for everyone. Trusts are typically used for either probate avoidance purposes, tax avoidance purposes, or asset protection. Trusts are often used for disability planning but generally, that is not the sole reason for people’s use of trusts.

Currently, the federal estate tax limit provides an $11.7 million exemption per person. This means that an individual currently will not pay federal estate tax unless their estate, per person, goes over $11.7 million or $23.4 million for a husband and wife. This law is set to go back to $5 million in 2025, set for inflation which predictions are that it will end up being around $5.8 million. Even with the reduction in 2025, most people in our local community will not need to do a trust for tax purposes. Certainly, there are rumors each and every day about Congress changing the laws and lowering the exception amounts, but until that happens, I would not make plans for something that may or may not occur. History tells us that all of the rumors that we are hearing, probably none of them will actually look like the actual law if it is ever enacted, and we have always taken the position to plan for the law as it is in effect, and if and when it changes, then we can pivot. With that said, there is not a high percentage of people who will need to do trusts for tax purposes as we sit here today in May of 2021.

Probate avoidance is usually a situation where there are properties in several different states across the country. While every state has different laws as to whether a person needs to open an estate in their specific state, generally speaking, if the property is in a person’s name alone at the time of their death, the state will require them to go through that state’s probate process. We find that many people like to avoid probate in these situations so that they do not have to hire attorneys in each state to finalize for their families. In a situation where a family does not have properties in multiple states, generally, probate avoidance is not something that people are overly concerned about unless they’re in a state that the probate process is very burdensome and overwhelming, which currently, it does not happen to be in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Asset protection is one reason that people will often do trusts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to avoid potential creditor issues and long-term care costs. These are a very specific animal of trusts and the rules are very unique to these trusts alone since they are not being set up for tax purposes. It is our recommendation that you speak to a professional well-versed in these types of trusts before completing one. They are very unique and there are very simple rules; however, it is very easy to make mistakes in this area. An elder law attorney well versed in these types of trusts will be able to provide advice as to whether this type of trust makes sense for you. There is no one size fits all answer to the question of “do I need a trust?”. It is important to get very clear on your personal goals and what your goals are for your family. Once you have a very clear picture of that, then a professional will be able to advise you, based upon your current situation, as to whether it makes sense. We would certainly be honored to assist you through this process, and we offer weekly workshops which will give you insight into the thought process in regards to whether trust is right for you. We look forward to seeing you in the future.

If you are looking for advice in regards to estate planning, please call our office at 717-845-5390 or click the link here and we will contact you.

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Moving On – Help for Seniors Relocating to Nursing Homes or Assisted Living Facilities

In my estate and elder law practice, I routinely provide advice to seniors and their families about the next step.  Specifically about what they will do when they need more care in their home or in an assisted living facility or in a nursing home.  

Nobody ever wants to have to be relocated as we all wish that we could just reside in our homes until we pass.  However, this is not always the case and having a plan in place, preparing you and your loved ones for what it will look like to have to move will reduce the amount of stress and burden on your family tremendously.  

The most important piece to all of this is for the entire family to be on the same page and to have open and honest conversations with each other.  All too often, families don’t have difficult conversations with the hopes that those decisions or that heartache will simply just go away if they ignore it.  

My experience is that that is never the case.  But, ultimately will only provide more heartache and more stress that could easily be avoided if the family has conversations up-front before it is necessary.  

I am always amazed at the assistance and guidance that assisted living facilities, personal care homes and nursing homes provide to their potential residents.  The number of resources and guidance that they can provide are astronomical and should definitely not be underestimated or overlooked.  

Take advantage of any and all resources that are made available.  But, if you have not yet made the final decision as to where you may want to move and cannot tap into the resources of a specific facility, there are definitely resources in and around our community that will not only assist you with preparation of your current home for sale and how to receive the highest top dollar but also what to expect when moving and what should you take or leave behind.  We found one resource here on “7 Best Moving Companies” to support you or your loved ones.  Sometimes paying for a service to take away from the overwhelm can be incredibly valuable and provide peace of mind.

Although these seem like very simple ideas and issues they really aren’t, and thinking about them in advance can save you and your family a lot of headaches.  Tap into your local resources to assist you with the move itself as well as how to get the new place put together and looking and feeling like home.  Spending a little bit of money in order to be able to get your new home feeling like your old home cannot be underestimated.  

If we can be of any assistance or answer any questions while you make decisions about long-term care, please give us a call at 717-845-5390.

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