This week I’m sharing a blog on Medicaid from Dave Zumpano, who focuses in Medicaid planning. I’ll be sharing Medicaid blogs from Dave Zumpano monthly in this space.
Now, here’s Dave’s blog:
Blog Author: David J. Zumpano, Esq, CPA, Co-founder Lawyers With Purpose, Founder and Senior Partner of Estate Planning Law Center
A major question comes up often during estate planning for seniors in determining what to do with the primary residence. There are many choices, but the actual selection will depend heavily on the ultimate goal of the client. Typical client goals include basic estate planning, probate avoidance, home management in the event of incompetency, benefits planning (Medicaid/VA), asset protection planning, and estate and income tax planning. Let’s review strategies in each of these situations.
The most common form of ownership of the primary residence by a husband and wife is as tenants by the entirety or similar legal ownership. By state law, this provides asset protection during life as 100 percent of the property will convey to the surviving spouse without any liens attached by a deceased spouse’s liabilities. Obviously for single individuals no asset protection is provided and non-spousal joint tenancy may protect the assets for the surviving joint tenant, subject only to Medicaid and IRS’s right to recovery. The most typical funding strategy is to transfer the primary residence to a revocable living trust (RLT) to avoid probate. Some states also allow payable-on-death deeds (ladybird deeds) or heirship deeds. While funding the home to a revocable trust or these other strategies avoid probate and could provide post death asset protection (RLT), they do not effectively provide protection “during life”.
Another primary strategy is to convey the home to an irrevocable trust. These are typically done when clients are interested in estate tax savings or asset protection. The primary question relates to whether the irrevocable trust is a “grantor trust” or a “non-grantor trust” for tax purposes. Traditionally, estate tax reduction trusts are non-grantor trusts and the home would maintain its “carry over tax basis” to the beneficiaries of the trust thereby creating a capital gains tax on the difference between the sales value and the original price paid by the grantor who conveyed it to the trust. In contrast, a grantor trust that retains rights that include the value of the irrevocable trust in the estate of the deceased grantor, would receive a “step up” in basis after the death of the grantor. While these serve estate and income tax needs, they often may conflict with benefits planning, such as for Medicaid and/or veterans’ benefits. In addition, one must be cautious in conveying a principle residence to a RLT or irrevocable trust as it could defeat any real property tax exemptions. The client is eligible for when the property is owned in the client’s name. You need to confirm with your local assessor on the impact of the credits upon funding the home to the trust chosen.
Medicaid and veterans’ benefits, on the other hand, have additional restrictions above and beyond the tax and legal restrictions regarding trusts. Putting a personal residence in an irrevocable trust for Medicaid can provide asset protection during lifetime but doing so creates an uncompensated transfer which affects future eligibility. Another question in funding the personal residence is whether to retain a reserved life estate in the deed and convey the remainder to the trust or to convey the whole residence to the trust and maintain a right for the grantor to live there inside the trust document. This often avoids the loss of any real property tax credits but if the home is sold during the grantor’s lifetime, then the grantor’s pro rata ownership (lifetime interest) proceeds would be considered “available” in determining the grantor’s ongoing Medicaid eligibility.
In contrast to Medicaid planning, planning for VA benefits has additional considerations. A veteran can convey their home to an irrevocable “grantor” trust without consequence. The caution, however, is if the residence is sold during the grantor’s lifetime and converted to an income producing asset (cash, stocks, etc.) it would thereafter trigger the asset value in determining the veteran’s future benefit eligibility.
Planning for the home appears simple but is absolutely essential that the overall client goal is identified before determining where to fund the home. Understanding these strategies are essential.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555
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