When Do I Need an Elder Law Attorney?

Elder law is different from estate law, but they frequently address many of the same issues. Estate planning contemplates your finances and property to best provide for you and your family while you’re still alive but incapacitated. It also concerns itself with the estate you leave to your loved ones when you die, minimizing probate complications and potential estate tax bills. Elder law contemplates these same issues but for those individuals who are 55+ years old and also the scenario when you may be planning for long-term care, even your eligibility for Medicaid should you need it.

A recent article from The Balance’s asks “Do You or a Family Member Need to Hire an Elder Law Attorney?” According to the article there are a variety of options to adjust as economically and efficiently as possible to plan for all eventualities. An elder law attorney can discuss these options with you.

Medicaid is a complicated subject, and really requires the assistance of an expert. The program has rigid eligibility guidelines in the event you require long-term care. The program’s benefits are income- and asset-based. However, you can’t simply give everything away to qualify, if you think you might need this type of care in the near future. There are strategies that should be implemented because the “spend down” rules and five-year “look back” period reverts assets or money to your ownership for qualifying purposes, if you try to transfer them to others. An elder law attorney will know these rules well and can guide you.

You’ll need the help and advice of an experienced elder law attorney to assist with your future plans, if one or more of these situations apply to you and you (or your loved one) are 55+ years old:

  • You’re in a second (or later) marriage;
  • You’re recently divorced;
  • You’ve recently lost a spouse or another family member;
  • Your spouse is incapacitated and requires long-term care;
  • You own one or more businesses;
  • You have real estate in more than one state;
  • You have a disabled family member;
  • You’re disabled;
  • You have minor children or an adult “problem” child;
  • You don’t have children;
  • You’d like to give a portion of your estate to charity;
  • You have significant assets in 401(k)s and/or IRAs; or
  • You have a taxable estate for estate tax purposes.

If you have any of these situations, you should seek the help of an elder law attorney.

If you fail to do so, you’ll most likely give a sizeable percentage of your assets to pay for long term care during your lifetime and then your estate to the state, an ex-spouse, or even the IRS.

State probate laws are very detailed as to what can and can’t be included in a will, trust, advance medical directive, or financial power of attorney. These laws control who can and can’t serve as a personal representative, trustee, health care surrogate, or attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney.

Hiring an experienced elder law attorney can help you and your family avoid simple but expensive mistakes, if you or your family attempt this on your own.

Reference: The Balance (Jan. 21, 2020) “Do You or a Family Member Need to Hire an Elder Law Attorney?”

 

What’s the Best Way to Gift an Interest in My Business?

A couple who owned a small family business was thinking about giving interests in the business to their married son over time. However, they were worried about the “what if” scenario of a possible divorce in his future. If their son divorced, they didn’t want to be in business with his ex-wife.

Forbes’s recent article, “What Family Businesses Need To Know About Gifting Business Interests,” explains that prior to the couple transferring some of their business to their son, they asked their attorney to draft a shareholder agreement with restrictions on to who the stock can be transferred in the future. The parents’ goal was to keep the stock from being transferred as part of a potential divorce. In our scenario, the parents want their daughter-in-law to sign a consent agreeing that she would be bound by the shareholder agreement and that the stock would never be transferred to her. If their son and his wife later divorced, she’d be bound by the agreement and the stock would remain with the son.

While the parents’ plan sounds like a great idea, it is in theory. However, the reality is that there’s a good chance of a far different and less desirable result. Let’s examine three ways this type of agreement could become a big headache.

  • Creating a big, icky issue. Ask yourself if you really want to ask your daughter-in-law (or son-in-law) to sign this? This may open a big can of worms in your family. If she didn’t think there was any value in the business, she may feel differently when she reads the agreement. Thanksgiving dinner may end up in a food fight!
  • Is it legal? Ask your attorney to analyze how effective the agreement would be under the laws that apply to the agreement and in the state where the couple may divorce.
  • How much protection does it offer? In many states, the agreement wouldn’t remove the stock as a marital asset. Even if the stock stays on the husband’s side of the balance sheet, its value would still be subject to division, and the wife could get other marital assets to balance things out.

An alternative might be the use of a marital agreement, like a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement. The family business may be better protected with the son having an agreement that states that the stock is outside the marital estate and not subject to division, in the event of divorce. Of course, the parents can’t force their son to enter into the agreement, but they can stop the gifting spigot if he doesn’t.

Speak with your attorney and look at all your options to find the strategies that will work best for your business and your family.

Reference: Forbes (October 9, 2019) “What Family Businesses Need To Know About Gifting Business Interests”