Asset Protection & Trusts

ASSET PROTECTION & TRUSTS

Do you have income, investments, or property? If so, did you know that you may be ineligible for Medicaid or other government benefits? Are you wondering whether a trust is right to protect your or your family’s assets?

At Stefans Law Group PC we have decades of experience in asset protection and Medicaid planning. We understand that it can be complicated to gain access to coveted government benefits and protect your hard-earned assets.

We use a variety of tailored, legal tools, such as trusts, to protect you and your family. There are different types of trusts, and each type serves a specific purpose.

  1. If you create a revocable trust, you maintain complete control over the trust and the trust property, and you can amend, revoke, or terminate the trust at anytime. You are can be the creator, beneficiary, and trustee of this type of trust. These trusts are used primarily for asset management, avoiding probate, and tax planning.
  1. If you execute an irrevocable trust, you cannot amend or change it — the trust property may only be maintained and distributed by the trustee (as provided in the document). For example, you can receive income generated from trust property/principal, but you cannot gain access to the actual trust principal/property. This is a popular tool for Medicaid planning and is also commonly known as an asset protection trust.

When it comes to Medicaid planning and eligibility, we see that asset protection often takes on a special urgency and requires a different approach. Given the high cost of care, and the potentially devastating economic impact on the family, it is imperative to plan carefully and timely, and in a way that ensures none of the various, complicated Medicaid rules are violated. Violations can and often do result in ineligibility of benefits.

Our compassionate team is knowledgeable and experienced with the Medicaid rules and regulations and with using legal tools for asset protection planning. Our personalized services can help you maximize your protections and benefits. We consider every aspect of your life – including financial, tax, and legal, to ensure you’re protected as much as possible.

Estate Administration & Probate

ESTATE ADMINISTRATION & PROBATE

Have you been named a beneficiary of a trust or a will? Has a loved one passed away without a will and you need help figuring out the next steps?

We can help. Our compassionate and experienced attorneys understand what a confusing and difficult time this can be and we’re here to help you every step of the way.

What is the difference between estate administration and probate? Are they the same thing? Which applies to my situation?

Probate and estate administration are both processes by which a decedent’s property is passed to a named beneficiary or lawful heir. Everyone has an estate. Some people give directions about what to do with their property after their death in an “estate plan”, and some do not.

Each state has its own set of laws governing how to accommodate a person’s estate plan, or lack thereof. The Probate Court supervises both probate and estate administration.

If the person had a will, the will goes through probate and the executor named in that will is responsible for ensuring the property goes to the named beneficiary. The entire process usually takes about a year. This is easier, quicker, and less expensive for the court and for families because the decedent left detailed instructions on what to do with his or her property.

On the other hand, if a person dies without a will, the person’s property is distributed according to state rules. These rules are called “intestate succession laws” and can vary greatly. These rules try to find the lawful heirs to the property and an administrator to properly distribute the property (like an executor). This can quickly become complicated, costly, and confusing without some help from an experienced professional.

Grieving the loss of a loved one is difficult enough without the added stress of navigating the complicated probate and estate administration process.

We can help you with every aspect of probate and estate administration, including:

  • Locating and gathering all estate property and assessing its value;
  • Collecting investment income (e.g., dividends, stocks, etc.);
  • Determining proper payment methods for claims, debts, or taxes against the estate;
  • Preparing estate tax returns; and
  • Distributing property to beneficiaries and heirs.

We understand what you are going through during a difficult time. Our skilled and dedicated team of professionals will guide you through the process compassionately and efficiently.

Estate Planning & Elder Law

ESTATE PLANNING & ELDER LAW

Do you have children or elderly parents? What about a savings account or a home? If so, have you also executed an estate plan?

A well-executed estate plan helps protect your family and property in the event that something happens to you. While some people shy away from the process, estate planning can actually be a very positive and fulfilling experience. You can focus on those you care about most and take steps to ensure their future happiness and prosperity.

The overall goal of estate planning is to maximize your assets and benefits during your lifetime, provide for the management of those assets in the event you become incapacitated or disabled, and eventually, swiftly transfer your assets to your named beneficiaries after death.

Generally, there are 4 “core” documents that makeup an estate plan: a Last Will and Testament, Durable Power of Attorney, a Health Care Proxy, and a Living Will. Depending on a person’s specific needs and wants, revocable and irrevocable trusts are often used as well.

  1. Last Will and Testament – Your will provides for the specific distribution of your property, names an executor to administer your estate pursuant to the terms you’ve set forth, and appoints a guardian for your minor children, in the event you pass away before they reach maturity (age 18).
  2. Durable Power of Attorney – The POA gives another person the authority to manage your property and/or finances in your absence. It is only valid during your lifetime, and you get to determine the scope, duration, and circumstances under which it is valid. The POA is usually used when a person is unable to manage their own affairs or when they cannot be present to sign documents or execute transactions.
  3. Living Will –A LW outlines your decisions related to specific healthcare treatments and options. It takes affect if and when you become unable to make decisions about your healthcare due to illness or incapacity. If there is an instruction in the LW, it will be followed.
  4. Health Care Proxy – The HCP is complementary to the LW and someone to either: effectuate the directions you made in your LW, or make decisions about your treatment and healthcare if you cannot do so yourself, or did not execute a LW.

Life is complicated and things often change in the blink of an eye. That’s why it is so important to develop and review your estate plan as circumstances change. While working with our firm, our clients get access to a wide variety of options for long-term planning as well as knowledgeable guidance from a team of compassionate advisors who help them make sound and well-informed decisions for theirs and their family’s future.

Elder Law

We have also specifically tailored a prong of our practice to meet the unique needs of our elderly clients. Though elder law and estate planning are conceptually similar, the fundamental difference is that estate planning focuses on an area of the law (i.e., preserving your assets), while elder law focuses on the needs of a particular client.

We have developed a holistic Life Care Planning approach to elder law. This model seeks to create and implement a plan that combines traditional estate planning tools, but also addresses questions that are often unique to the elderly, such as:

  • What happens if I become disabled or otherwise cannot make important financial and healthcare decisions for myself? Who can make such decision for me?
  • Are there any special government benefits that I may qualify for?
  • Where will I live if I become incapacitated and my loved ones are not able to care for me? How will I pay for this living arrangement? What happens to my personal belongings?
  • How do I preserve my wealth? How do I stay social, intellectually stimulated, and happy?

Our professional team of attorneys, certified financial planners, and tax experts have over 17 years of legal experience and over 20 years of financial and tax planning experience. We understand the needs of our elderly clients and aim to preserve your independence and wealth for as long as possible. We are committed to safeguarding your investments and hard-work with our comprehensive, personalized services.

Estate Tax & Retirement Income Planning

ESTATE TAX & RETIREMENT INCOME PLANNING

Estate Tax:

One of the many advantages of estate planning is minimizing your beneficiaries’ tax obligation when they receive assets from your estate. Current tax law outlines the responsibilities and duties of a decedent’s gross estate when that estate exceeds the federal exemption amount. The current exemption amount is $11.2 million dollars per person.

A decedent’s gross estate includes all the decedent’s assets, both financial (e.g., stocks, bonds, and mutual funds) and real (e.g., homes, land, and other tangible property). It also includes the decedent’s share of jointly owned assets and life insurance proceeds from policies owned by the decedent. These amounts can quickly add up to a significant tax payment.

However, the estate tax law allows an unlimited deduction for transfers to a surviving spouse and to charity. Estates may also deduct debts, funeral expenses, legal and administrative fees, charitable bequests, and estate taxes paid to states. The taxable estate equals the gross estate less these deductions. Therefore, if after all of these deductions are properly calculated and the taxable estate is valued at over $11.2 million dollars, it is subject to estate tax.

Many other useful estate planning and tax planning tools are available to maximize your wealth. Our unique team of in-house attorneys, tax experts, and certified financial planners determine the proper tax plan for you.

Retirement Income Planning:

Have you been thinking about your retirement? Do you have enough to sustain yourself and your spouse for the next 15-30 years? Did you know that accessing funds in your retirement accounts in a specific order seriously impacts how much you ultimately receive from those accounts?

Retirement Income Planning involves carefully planning the distribution of your overall wealth. Our team of experts will examine your current financial status, income, and retirement plan to determine the best withdrawal schedule and way to maximize your retirement funds.

Each source of income and each type of retirement account is governed by a different set of rules. Being ignorant of these rules or otherwise failing to properly accommodate them can significantly lower how much a you and your heirs, ultimately receive.

There are multiple strategies that can be used in order to maximize assets and minimize tax and other liabilities. For example, a life insurance policy can be used to protect an IRA account, or a spousal rollover can be used to stretch-out retirement benefits and minimize taxes. Additionally, retirement income planning can ensure children or heirs receive the benefits of tax-deferred growth, as well as protect retirement accounts left to them against threats such as divorce, remarriage, lawsuits, or creditors.

Understanding estate taxes and your retirement distribution strategies is critical to maintaining your overall wealth and preserving your family legacy. We understand that everyone has unique goals, financial expectations, and different attitudes towards financial risk. Our team of attorneys, certified financial planners, and tax experts work together, to develop a plan that considers all of your unique ideas, goals, and priorities.

Long Term Care Planning & Geriatric Care Management

LONG TERM CARE PLANNING & GERIATRIC CARE MANAGEMENT

Have you ever thought about needing care? Or how your income stream would change if you were to become disabled? How would it affect your family?

Our suite of client services can help you pre-plan the services and support that you might need in order to maintain your quality of life in the event of illness, disability, or sudden impairment.

Our inter-disciplinary team of elder law attorneys, financial planners, social workers, and geriatric care managers, work with you to determine the best course of action for you. We focus on things like long-term financial management and estate planning; but our priority is developing a life-care plan that helps you maintain your functionality, independence, routine, and happiness for as long as possible.

Geriatric care managers coordinate all the care required to meet your social, emotional, physical, and healthcare needs. We conduct care-planning assessments, screen and monitor in-home help, and help communicate between your family and other care providers, and provide education and decision making support.

We work together to develop your estate plan, protect assets, qualify and maintain public benefits, coordinate care, and intervene if there are problems with care or care providers. We can help you manage it all.

Special Needs Planning & Guardianship

SPECIAL NEEDS PLANNING & GUARDIANSHIP

Do you have a loved one with special needs? Are you worried about not being able to continue caring for them? Are you concerned about the financial pressures of meeting their needs? Are you considering a guardianship?

We understand that people who have children or relatives with special needs face many challenges and questions such as how to:

  • Leave property or money to them without losing public benefits;
  • Ensure that the funds are well-managed;
  • Provide them with proper social, emotional, and mental care;
  • Prevent overburdening other children or relatives with caring for them;
  • Ensure there is enough money to meet their needs and your own.

Certain legal tools, like a special needs trust, can provide solutions for many of these problems. A special needs trust can provide a disabled person lifelong financial security while preserving their eligibility for public benefits such as Medicaid, SSI, and public housing.

Sometimes, guardianship might be necessary. A guardianship is a legal relationship where one adult is given decision-making authority over another adult. Guardianship can be of the person and/or of the person’s property. Generally, this process begins when an individual becomes incapacitated or disabled and unable to manage his or her affairs. It’s a complicated and court supervised process, and each jurisdiction has various laws governing the process, and the guardian’s responsibilities throughout the relationship.

At Stefans Law Group PC, our team of attorneys, social workers, and geriatric care managers understand your concerns, the legal nuances, and can explain your options for providing a secure and safe future for your loved one. We are here to support and advise you compassionately throughout the process.

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