Trusts are a legal tool that can be used for many purposes including estate planning, asset protection, and income tax minimization. Trusts are a way of managing property with the intention of protecting it so that it can be passed on via inheritance to future generations.
Trusts establish a fiduciary relationship that allows a third party to hold a person’s assets on behalf of that person’s beneficiary or beneficiaries. The person establishing the trust and designating the beneficiaries is known as the “settlor” or “trustor,” and the third party who holds the assets on behalf of the beneficiaries is the “trustee.”
Why do people create trusts?
Why do people create trusts in the first place? How do you know if you need a trust? First, people create trusts to control and protect their assets, especially for after they pass away. Trusts provide legal protection for the trustor’s real and personal property, and can also provide protection from creditors. Second, people create trusts because they are concerned about their money being spent on someone other than who it was intended for. Trusts are established to make sure that the trustor’s assets are distributed according to their wishes. If you have significant assets, especially a significant amount of real estate assets, or you have very specific wishes about how and when you want your assets distributed after you pass away, a trust might be for you. The best thing to do is talk to your attorney, who will help you determine whether a trust is the best way to protect your assets.
A beneficiary cannot just “take” an inheritance out of a trust
Since the purpose of a trust is to protect your assets, beneficiaries cannot just take their inheritance out of the trust as they please. The trustee must follow the terms of the trust established by the trustor.
Minors & age clauses within trusts
People under the age of 18 legally cannot control their own money. A trust may be established for a minor beneficiary in order for them to have financial resources during their minority, but these resources are managed by the trustee according to the terms established by the trustor. For example, a trustor may include that their beneficiary receives a regular allowance from the trust.
However, turning 18 does not necessarily mean that the beneficiary will automatically have unlimited access to the trust. Many trustors include payout clauses that extend the trust for a certain amount of time after the beneficiary turns 18. The policy behind this is that, while an 18-year-old may legally be able to control money and property and enter into contracts, the late teenage and early adult years are still a very developmental stage of life. An 18-year-old very well may not have the maturity and money management skills required to handle a significant amount of assets. Age clauses allow for the beneficiary to continue receiving periodic funds from the trust, but provide another level of protection of the trustor’s assets until the beneficiary reaches an age of presumed maturity, usually when the beneficiary reaches their mid-20s.
Trusts for beneficiaries with special needs
These types of trusts are intended to provide for individuals with special needs while also allowing them to retain government benefits like social security or Medicaid. The Trustee will distribute funds from the trust as needed, or on a regular schedule, to take care of the special needs beneficiary’s living expenses and health care needs.
The terms for receiving an inheritance are set when the trust is created
Overall, money moves from a trust only according to the terms set forth at the creation of the trust. This may mean a periodic payment to the beneficiary distributed by the trustee, lump-sum payment to the beneficiary at a certain age, or both. Assets cannot be removed from the trust unless the terms provide for it. To obtain assets from the trust that are not provided for within the terms of the trust, you likely will have to go to court.
When it comes to estate planning, there are many ways that you can distribute your assets according to your wishes. One of the most popular ways is to create a trust.
There are many types of trusts out there. A trust can be either revocable or irrevocable and it can have unique clauses for receiving an inheritance. Trusts are in many ways the opposite of a will. A will is used to distribute property after someone dies, while a trust is set up while someone is alive and involves giving up control over the assets.
Not sure if a trust is right for you? Discuss your financial and family situation with a qualified attorney first.
Probate is the legal process of transferring some of a deceased person’s assets to their heirs. Once you or someone you love passes away, there may be questions about what specific assets and property within an estate actually have to go through probate court, and which assets pass directly to beneficiaries. The short answer is that only assets that a person owned that were in their own name, alone, must go through probate.
The Probate Estate
Assets that go through probate make up what’s called the “probate estate.” For example, an individually owned bank account with no named beneficiary or a car titled only in an individual person’s name will pass through probate.
All other assets pass to the named beneficiaries without going through the probate court.
So, what are some specific things that do not pass through probate?
Here are a few examples:
Property held in joint tenancy with a right of survivorship
Any assets or real property held in joint tenancy (with a right of survivorship specified in the deed) by the deceased and one or more other people doesn’t need to go through probate. When one owner dies, the survivor(s) automatically owns the property.
Property held in tenancy by the entirety
If the deceased individual owned real estate with their spouse in tenancy by the entirety, the surviving spouse is automatically the sole owner when the other spouse passes away.
Payable-on-death bank accounts
A payable-on-death bank account is an account that passes to the beneficiary at the death of the account holder, therefore it does not pass through probate. Check with your bank to see whether your bank account(s) have payable-on-death beneficiaries.
Assets registered in transfer-on-death form
Tennessee residents can name transfer-on-death beneficiaries for securities. Assets registered in the transfer-on-death form pass directly to the named beneficiary without needing to go through probate.
Life insurance proceeds
When life insurance policies or annuities specify a beneficiary, the proceeds do not go through probate.
The funds in retirement accounts do not go through probate if the account holder designated a beneficiary.
Assets held inside a Trust by a Trustee do not go through probate.
Learn how to prepare for and navigate probate
Overall, knowing which your assets must pass through probate, and which do not pass through probate, can save you a lot of unnecessary stress and confusion. Designating probate vs. non-probate assets is an important part of your overall estate plan strategy. It is important to take the time to talk to an attorney in order to identify your assets, decide who your beneficiaries should be, and determine what the best method is for those beneficiaries to receive their share.
We invite you to participate in our “Estate Planning Challenge,” which is a daily email campaign where you can identify all of the people, assets, and decision-makers that you will need to consider before meeting with an attorney to further discuss your estate plan.
Last week we defined TennCare and how it applies to our clients. This week I want to go more in-depth with how TennCare serves Tennesseans with long-term care.
Many people believe that Medicare benefits will cover nursing home care once an individual is 65 or older, but this simply isn’t true. While Medicare covers the first 100 days, it doesn’t cover long-term assisted living. Read more about Medicare here.
Back to TennCare/Medicaid…
My Mom doesn’t have long-term healthcare insurance. What are my options?
Payout of pocket until you run out of cash – This is an unrealistic option for most families. Nursing home care is expensive. Not a lot of people have an extra $7,000-$11,000 a month in their bank accounts.
Do a reverse mortgage on her home.
Qualify for the TennCare / Medicaid program called “CHOICES”.
As you can see, options 1 and 2 are very unpleasant and leave nothing left for a loved one’s legacy. However, option 3, CHOICES, is definitely something worth looking into.
What is CHOICES?
CHOICES is the category of TennCare that provides Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) such as nursing home care.
What is the process for getting qualified for CHOICES?
In order to be eligible to receive benefits from TennCare/Medicaid your loved one must first qualify within these three categories:
How does someone become medically eligible for TennCare CHOICES?
The state of Tennessee will determine who is medically eligible to receive TennCare Long-Term Services and Support (LTSS) by using a pre-admission evaluation (PAE). This PAE is used to determine if the applicant can do basic life skills on their own without help. The PAE will also determine if the applicant is safe in their current environment.
The PAE is a strict evaluation and it is performed on a case-by-case basis. An applicant must receive a score of 9 or higher on a 26 point scale in order to be considered medically eligible for TennCare Long-Term Support Services.
For example, a caregiver or healthcare provider may be asked about a patient’s level of ability to do things and how much assistance is needed.
The following Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) are covered in the PAE evaluation:
If you or your loved one is unlikely to get to a nine or higher on the PAE, it is always appropriate to ask for a “safety determination” evaluation as an alternative route of becoming medically eligible for Choices.
How can someone become financially eligible to receive CHOICES?
You must be able to prove that the applicant has a low income and little assets. As of January 2022, an individual applying for TennCare CHOICES cannot have an income exceeding $2,523.00 per month. Additionally, the applicant cannot have more than $2,000 in assets. This includes any money in the bank and investment accounts but also requires consideration of retirement accounts, life insurance policies, real estate, artwork, jewelry, and any other valuables. When we talk about the assets for a couple of things get a little more complex. The most important thing is that both the applicant and their family are taken care of, both medically and financially.
My Mom is over the limits for income and assets? What do we do?
If the applicant is in excess of the amounts we can plan for that! We have a tool to help people who have excess income and assets yet need to qualify for TennCare/Medicaid called the “Care and Savings Assessment”. With this Care and Savings Assessment, we work to determine the best way to structure you or your loved one’s finances, either now or in the future. We plan so that our clients have the peace of mind knowing they can qualify for TennCare if and when they need it!
It is often helpful to have an attorney assess your financial situation and offer recommendations on how those finances may be restructured to qualify for TennCare Long-Term Services and Support (LTSS). As an experienced TennCare planning attorney, I can help you evaluate your risk and create a plan that takes care of everyone in the family.
Are you ready for help with TennCare planning? Contact us and we can discuss your plan. Next week we will go over some examples of how we restructure an individual’s finances to meet their needs for long-term care.
Quite simply, TennCare is Tennessee’s Medicaid program. While the name “TennCare” has the word “care” in it, it is NOT Medicare. In order to further clarify the difference between the terms “Medicaid” and “Medicare,” you need to remember that we use “Medicare” to “care” for our elders and “Medicaid” to “aid” those, of any age, in need. Essentially TennCare is Tennessee’s brand of Medicaid. Hopefully, that little trick will help you remember the differences between each program.
Who qualifies for TennCare?
Now that you are familiar with the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, let’s discuss who qualifies for TennCare (Medicaid).
There are three qualification criteria that you must meet in order to obtain Medicaid/TennCare.
1. Medical qualification –There is a special medical test that applicants must pass in order to qualify. Usually, a care facility will handle this piece of the Medicaid application.
2. Asset qualification – A TennCare applicant who is single can only have $2,000.00 in assets before they are eligible for TennCare. Vehicles and real estate are usually exempt from the count of assets. A “Care and Savings Assessment” is a good place to start if the applicant needs help with figuring out what they have in assets and what options are available to make excess assets “non-countable” for TennCare purposes.
3. Income qualification – A TennCare applicant can only receive $2,382.00 per month (as of 2021) in order to receive TennCare. If an applicant has more than this amount in income, an attorney can resolve it through what is called a Miller Trust or a Qualified Income Trust.
Why should I be concerned about long-term care services?
Unless you are a millionaire or multi-millionaire, TennCare eligibility and designation could have a major impact on your finances and your family. While you may not need TennCare now, you will want to plan as if you will need it in the future. As you may have heard us say before “we hope for the best, and plan for the worst.” Having a plan is an effective way to ensure that you will have long-term care coverage when you need it. This isn’t to say that you won’t find yourself needing TennCare much sooner than expected. When this happens we call it “TennCare Crisis Planning”.
I don’t know where to start!
The biggest obstacle to TennCare planning is determining what to do with your assets and income; especially if there is excess in any category. There are a lot of rules and potential pitfalls that you need to look out for. Fortunately, we have some great financial planning and legal resources that can help our clients. If you have an immediate need for TennCare or want to plan for TennCare we can supply the client with what we call a “Care and Savings Assessment”. It’s a wonderful tool that helps people effectively navigate through their options.
How do we help our estate planning clients with TennCare planning?
For our estate planning clients, we like to take into consideration the possibility that you may need TennCare in the future.
For example, it is our priority to set up our client estate plans to make sure that TennCare is accessible if it is ever needed. As with many government organizations, Medicaid has lots of rules to follow and many people find that they did not know what rules they were supposed to be following until it was too late! Fortunately for our clients, we know the rules and can help you plan in advance of ever needing to apply for TennCare to cover medical care. Additionally, we create documents that make sure that someone can apply for Tenncare on your behalf. This is useful if you become incapacitated in the future.
How do we help our Conservatorship clients with TennCare?
Many of our conservatorship clients are caregivers for a loved one who requires skilled nursing to keep them safe. The average cost for this type of care is about $7,000.00 per month or more. There is usually a large gap between monthly income and fees. Our firm can navigate the TennCare application process and assure that the appropriate language is in the conservatorship order paperwork with the court so that the client may obtain the appropriate benefits for their loved one.
How do we help clients with TennCare Crisis planning?
For those who have never considered the cost of long-term care until they or a loved one need to enter a nursing facility, the cost of care is likely to come as a shock- and an unaffordable, but necessary, expense. This is when we can step in with what we call “crisis planning,” meaning that you need a plan and you need a plan now.
In these cases, we are able to look at the household financial situation of the person needing skilled care, as well as the family situation overall, and come up with a plan for how to best use existing resources and get them qualified for TennCare benefits to pay for the nursing home bills. This process called our “Care and Savings Assessment”, is one of the most rewarding things that we do! It allows us to help people get the care that they need while still providing a quality of life for themselves and their families.
If you are concerned about accessing TennCare benefits for long-term care, contact our office for a complimentary initial call using our online calendar here.
To sign up for Part A, go to the Social Security Administration’s Medicare portal here. It will be helpful to set up an account for when you come back to sign up for Part B or when you are ready to begin receiving retirement benefits.
If you are signing up for Parts A and B, the process is the same. You’ll sign up through the Social Security Administration’s website. Remember that if you enroll for Part B, your premiums will either be deducted from your Social Security retirement payment or you will receive a bill. The 2021 Part B premium is $148.50 for most people.
If you are looking for a Medicare Advantage plan, Part D, or a Supplement (Medigap) plan, you will want to compare plan options using a plan comparison service. There are insurance brokers like Kendall Chanley and Harry Perret here in town who can help you compare options and narrow things down. Once done, they will get you signed up. These services are free to you and it’s nice to have one agent who can help you each year.
If you prefer to do things yourself or just want to do some exploring, Medicare.gov will allow you to find plans in your area and narrow them down based on what you are looking for and price ranges. I recommend filtering plans by the star ratings (four or above) and then whether you are looking for dental, vision, and prescription medicine access.
Once you make it through your first enrollment period at age 65 (ideally), you’ll be eligible for open enrollment each year from October 15th through December 7th. You may also have options to select coverage during a special enrollment period if you lose other coverage.
Applying for Medicare isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds, but it does require advanced planning and research. You don’t want any deadlines sneaking up on you! Personally, I love using reminders on my calendar well in advance of any deadlines that I have. Maybe one to begin research, one to call an expert, one to compare plans, one to sign up….all before your birthday or November.
What’s your plan for Medicare enrollment? Head to our Facebook page to share your plans in the comments!