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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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Comparing Life Care Planning to Traditional Elder Law

This year, we are getting the word out there about the Life Care Planning we offer that involves a licensed social worker to act as the Client Care Advocate. A question that we keep getting is what is “What is the difference between Life Care Planning and Elder Law and why did you make the change?” The way that I explain it is that a traditional elder law firm prepares documents for an individual and then either waits until the client passes or until they need to go to a nursing home and will qualify them for public benefits.

A life care planning firm is a more holistic approach to providing care. Our licensed social worker, Meg Motter, works with families to assist in figuring out ways to keep their loved ones home and how to receive care in a home or in a less restrictive environment than a nursing home. A licensed social worker will be able to provide different cognitive assessments and evaluate safety and necessity of levels of care, unlike an attorney. The elder care coordinator allows the firm to provide a more comprehensive approach, separate from just estate planning documents or qualification for Medicaid. The care coordinator allows the firm to provide information and advice that was not otherwise available to the firm prior to becoming a life care planning model firm.

We are ecstatic to have Meg Motter onboard as our elder care coordinator and we look forward to assisting you and your family in the future.

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

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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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Meet Michelle Wheeler from our Probate Team

I essentially work with the executor/administrator/trustee and help them manage the assets and expenses of the decedent.  It’s like taking over a person’s financial life after they have passed.

If we need to probate, I prepare the court documents and set up the appointment to get the executor/administrator appointed.  Once that’s done there is estate/trust advertising, bank accounts to manage, securities (stocks, bonds, etc.) to sell or transfer, life insurance/annuity/retirement claim forms to file, an inheritance tax return needs to be filed 9 months from date of death (tax estimate paid within 3 months of death to get tax discount), bills to be paid, selling or transferring real estate, etc.  Once an appraisement letter is received from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue for the inheritance tax (6-9 months or longer from the date the return was filed), we can make final distributions and close out the matter.  It is a lengthy and time-consuming process that can be frustrating.  I do my best to make the process as comfortable as I can.

Myths and Mysteries of the Probate Process:

  1. Even if all assets are in trust, joint name or have specific beneficiaries assigned, it’s the same process except for the estate administration. We still have to get date of death confirmation values on all assets, account for all debts and expenses paid and prepare a Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax return.  Unfortunately, it is not a quick process.
  2. Depending on the company the amount of paperwork needed to transfer, sell or claim assets can be overwhelming. Please be patient.  Once all claim forms are signed and filed, it can take 10 days to a few weeks for the claim to be reviewed once it is in the company’s computer system.  This is not usually a quick process.
  3. I need the following information to start working on a file: bank statements including decedent’s date of death, current deed on all real estate, investment/brokerage statements including decedent’s date of death, life insurance/annuity/retirement paperwork, copy of most recent personal income tax return, copies of bills paid and/or checks drawn.
  4. Stock certificates should be deposited with a broker or investment service. Stock certificates are like holding cash in your hand.  If the certificate is lost, there is a lost certificate fee to get it reissued.  Please keep your investment safe.
  5. If there is only a bank account with $10,000 or less in the decedent’s name alone on a date of death, a spouse, any child, father or mother, or any sister or brother (preference in that order) can close the account with a copy of the death certificate and the invoice showing the funeral is paid in full. No probate is necessary.

If you would like to learn more about avoiding the probate process, please give us a call at 717-845-5390.

 

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My Loved One Will Stay Home Forever

This is a statement that we hear on a regular basis in our office when we talk about aging and potentially needing assistance for our loved ones in the future.  Most people, if asked, would choose or want to stay home as long as they possibly can.  We often are abruptly interrupted when we start talking about alternatives such as assisted living facilities or personal care homes or long-term care facilities.  

It is certainly admirable to want to stay home as long as possible and there are a lot of things that can be done to help ensure that that can occur.  The time to start discussing what it is going to look like for a loved one to stay home is now.  Take a look at the house and the configurations of the house to determine if it is suitable and adaptable to allow somebody to age there.  Is there a possibility of putting ramps in or having a stair lift installed to assist with getting up and down steps within the home.  Are there appropriate handrails or grab bars in bathrooms and other places.  We highly recommend that you ask a geriatric care manager to come to your home to assist with evaluating its adaptability and suitability for people as they age.  

If you find yourself in a situation where a loved one needs care now, we highly recommend that you look at non-medical options to have someone come into the person’s home to assist them with their needs.  Non-medical options are plentiful in the York and surrounding areas and allow families to know that their loved ones will have a companion during the day and potentially get reminders throughout the day about taking medication, going to the restroom, or getting meals.   Oftentimes all that people need is simple reminders and someone just taking a look to make sure that they are remaining safe in their home.  If the situation gets worse and the individual begins to need medical care we are also very lucky in our area that we have several medical options for care in the home.  I would highly recommend that you research both the medical and non-medical options in our area to see how plentiful and wonderful these companies are. 

As a person ages in place, and as their care needs increase, sometimes it is impossible to have somebody continue to remain in their home because it may become unsafe.  There are certainly a lot of options before this becomes a possibility but if a person begins to wander from the home or if the home is not able to be adapted to be safe for them we may have no choice but to move them into another type of setting.  However, with proper planning and assistance from outside companies and family members it is possible to age in place in your home for a long time.   We highly encourage you to have these conversations ahead of time so that you’re not having them in a crisis situation which makes the conversation much more difficult.  

If you would like to learn more about estate planning and elder law, please give our office a call at 717-845-5390.

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