Is Transferring the House to Children a Good Idea?

Clients frequently ask this question, especially as mom or dad is aging and perhaps living in assisted living or some other senior care arrangement.  Many try to do so using online forms, and find later that it was a mistake.  Transferring your house to your children while you’re alive may avoid probate, but gifting a home also can mean a rather large and unnecessary tax bill or could effect eligibility for long term care benefits. It also may place your house at risk, if your children get sued or file for bankruptcy

You also could be making a mistake, if you hope it will help keep the house from being consumed by nursing home bills.

There are better ways to transfer a house to your children, as well as a little-known potential fix that may help even if the giver has since died, says Considerable’s recent article entitled “Should you transfer your house to your adult kids?”

If a parent signs a quitclaim to give her son the house and then dies, it can potentially mean a tax bill of thousands of dollars for the son.

Families who see this error in time can undo the damage, by gifting the house back to the parent.

People will also transfer a home to try to qualify for Medicaid, but any gifts or transfers made within five years of applying for Medicaid can result in a penalty period when seniors are disqualified from receiving benefits.  A capable elder law attorney can advise you on better ways to address this, as well as potential corrections if necessary.

In addition, transferring your home to another person can expose you to their financial problems because their creditors could file liens on your home and, depending on state law, take some or most of its value. If the child divorces, the house could become an asset that must be divided as part of the marital estate.

Section 2036 of the Internal Revenue Code says that if the parent were to retain a “life interest” in the property, which includes the right to continue living there, the home would remain in her estate rather than be considered a completed gift. However, there are rules for what constitutes a life interest, including the power to determine what happens to the property and liability for its bills.

There are other ways to avoid probate. Many states and DC permit “transfer on death” deeds that let homeowners transfer their homes at death without probate.  Texas has both transfer on death deeds and “Lady Bird Deeds,” and an attorney can advise you on the differences and the best way to utilize them with your estate plan.  An excellent solution is to use a living trust which allows assets it owns or receives at death to avoid probate.  Having the trust own the property, or possibly using a deed to convey the property to the the trust at death, are excellent solutions.

If you are interested in learning more, please see this article for various ways to own and hold real estate.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-to-own-your-real-estate/  

In sum, there are many unexpected consequences to transferring your home to your children, so it is important to discuss the best way to convey the home to your loved ones with an attorney.

Reference: Considerable (Sep. 18) “Should you transfer your house to your adult kids?”

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Can I Protect My Estate with Life Insurance?

Life insurance is a powerful estate planning tool which protects the estate by providing liquidity to preserve assets and to pay estate taxes and expenses.

With proper planning, insurance money can pay expenses, such as estate tax and keep other assets intact, says FedWeek’s article entitled “Protect Your Estate With Life Insurance.”

The article provides the story of “Bill” as an example. He dies and leaves a large estate to his daughter Julia. There are significant estate taxes due. However, most of Bill’s assets are tied up in real estate and an IRA. Julia may not want to hurry into a forced sale of the real estate. If she taps the inherited IRA to raise cash, she’ll be forced to pay income tax on the withdrawal and lose a valuable opportunity for extended tax deferral.

A wise move for Bill would be to purchase life insurance on his own life. The policy’s proceeds could be used to pay the estate tax bill. Julia will then be able to keep the real estate, while taking only the Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from the inherited IRA. It might make sense if Julia owns the insurance policy or it’s owned by a trust as well.  See here for more details on how that might work for you.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/trust-owned-life-insurance-in-your-estate-plan/

However, there are a few common life insurance errors that can damage an estate plan:

Designating the estate as beneficiary. If you make this move, you put the policy proceeds in your estate, where the money will be exposed to estate tax and your creditors. Your executor will also have additional paperwork, if your estate is the beneficiary. Instead, be certain to name the appropriate beneficiaries.

Designating a single beneficiary. Name at least two “backup” or contingency beneficiaries. This will eliminate some confusion in the event the primary beneficiary should predecease you.

Designating your revocable trust.  If estate taxes aren’t a concern and you use a trust-based estate plan, sometimes designating your trust as a beneficiary is a great idea as it provides liquidity to your family for estate expenses.

Placing your life insurance in the “file and forget” file. Be sure to review your policies at least once every three years. If the beneficiary is an ex-spouse or someone who has passed away, you need to make the appropriate change and get a confirmation, in writing, from your life insurance company.

Inadequate insurance. You may not have enough life insurance. If you have a young child, it may require hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay all of his or her expenses, such as college tuition and expenses, in the event of your untimely death. Skimping on insurance may hurt your surviving family. You also don’t need to be so thrifty, because today’s term insurance costs are very low.

As you can see, life insurance may be a powerful estate tool.  Speak with your advisor and your estate planning attorney on how best to incorporate life insurance in your estate plan.

Reference: FedWeek (June 11, 2020) “Protect Your Estate With Life Insurance”

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Removing your House from your Trust

There are ways to remove your house from your trust, but work with an estate planning attorney to do so while preserving the trust benefits!

Occasionally clients ask for assistance in removing their house from their trust.  They do so to facilitate refinancing the house, the client wants to add a relative to the title, to ensure the home is considered a residence for Medicaid purposes or some other similar issue.  There are a number of issues to consider before doing so as the recent nj.com article entitled “I want to revoke a trust on my house. What do I do?”  points out.  Whether it is a good idea to remove your home from your trust and actually doing so will require the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney.

The answer to a question about how to get a house out of your trust is going to be in the trust terms themselves. However, if the terms of the trust are silent, the answer may be found in the trust laws in the state statutes.  If answering the question in general terms, the primary concern is whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable.

The first step is to determine whether the trust is revocable.   Most clients use revocable trusts, so assuming it is a revocable trust, the trustor (person who set up the trust) has the right to remove the house from the trust.  The trustee (probably the same person) can execute a deed conveying the property from the trust to the trustor.  That takes the property out of the trust.

In the majority of cases, this will solve the problem.  Also, if the property was removed to refinance, you can safely convey it back to the trust once the refinance is done.  Similarly, if a client wants to add someone to title to change where the property goes at death, it is often better to just change the trust terms to leave the residence to the beneficiary.  This is often better for taxes as well.

If the trust is irrevocable, it means that the house can’t be removed from the trust unless the terms of the trust permit it.  There are exceptions, such as asking a Court’s permission to revoke the trust or remove the property, or in some cases, terminating the trust with agreement of the trustee and beneficiaries, but these are more difficult options and not guaranteed.

Next, let’s look at the reason why the home was initially put in a trust.  It is important to keep these ideas in mind as removing the property from the trust may negate important benefits.   See here for the benefits https://www.galliganmanning.com/category/trusts/page/6/      There may be alternatives which accomplish the same goals as well.

If the purpose was to lower estate taxes, it may make sense to remove the house from the trust. This is especially the case if the property is in a state that doesn’t have state estate taxes.  Very few states still do.  An estate rarely meets the threshold for federal estate taxes, so clients actually save taxes by removing the property from trust.

If the property is owned by an irrevocable trust for asset protection in long-term care planning, it might make sense to keep the property in the trust.  However, if you are using a revocable trust and want to consider asset protection in long-term care planning, it is often better to keep the property in your name. This is because Medicaid may exempt your residence if you own it personally.  In our office, we prepare “Lady Bird deeds” for Texas residences which allow a client to own the residence personally, and transfer it to the trust automatically when they pass away.  This works with both asset protection planning and probate planning.

If the trust owned the property for probate avoidance, the property often will be put back into the trust or conveyed at death to the trust such as with the Lady Bird deed.

In sum, there are some reasons to remove property from a trust, but doing so should always involve an experienced estate planning to preserve the benefits of the trust and to ensure your goals are met.

Reference: nj.com (Feb. 4, 2020) “I want to revoke a trust on my house. What do I do?”

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