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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How do I Help my Parents with Money Problems

Today many people are taking care of parents. Having a discussion and boundaries between parent and child, as well as seeking professional advice, can help.

According to a 2019 study by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, 8% of Gen Xers and 3% of Boomers say supporting their parents is a top financial priority in their lives.  Similarly, a study from TD Ameritrade found that 13% of Americans are supporting a parent, including 19% of millennials.  With so many individuals taking care of parents, it is important both everyone to be prudent

Next Avenue’s recent article entitled “When Your Parents Need Financial Help” says that if this is a financial priority for you, try a respectful approach to see the extent of your parents’ money issues and what you might be able to do to help.

There is one financial issue that your parents may have. They may have failed to set aside money for long-term care, because of their debts.  Ideally they would start planning well before they are dependent, but there is no time like the present to address a problem.  For long-term care assistance, ask an elder law attorney for help. We can investigate your parents’ eligibility for Medicaid or other benefits to help pay for care.  This article has a much fuller overview on those issues.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/long-term-care-whats-it-all-about/

However, before you jump in with both feet, consider your own money situation. Remember your own finances come first, because it you don’t, you risk your own finances by overcommitting. Therefore, if you can afford to help them, you have to establish boundaries. If you have siblings, bring them into the discussion and ask about sharing the responsibility. After you figure out to what extent you can afford to help financially, reach out to your parents — with care. You don’t want to come off as criticizing or judging them for making financial mistakes or bad financial decisions.

It’s important to begin the conversation early when taking care of parents, especially financially. You also may want to refer your parents to a financial planner or to a credit counselor. If housing is a major expense, it may be time for your parents to downsize to a more affordable home. You can also look into having them move in with you.  If not a topic of discussion, perhaps you’re able to review their expenses to see what they can cut and help them find ways to improve their financial situation. You should also look into federal, state, and local resources, like benefits for which your parents may be eligible.

It may be an issue of diminishing capacity and worth discussing with your parents’ doctors.  I once had a client who almost overnight spent thousands of dollars on QVC.  She spent because it was on TV and had no concept of how much she purchased or how much she spent.  Having family involved before hand may help eliminate or reduce those issues.

After you’ve delved into all the resources, and you’re also ready to help your parents financially, make sure you incorporate all of this into your own financial plan. Instead of handing your parents cash or a check to pay outstanding bills, pay the bills yourself. This will allow you to be certain that the money is actually used for the bill, rather than something else.  You can best accomplish this as the agent for your parents under a power of attorney or as trustee of their living trust.

Many people taking care of parents also choose to provide for their parents in their estate plans. It is very common to do so, but if you do, consider leaving assets to your parents in a trust, such as a supplemental needs trust.  That way, they receive the benefit of the money while protecting assets, preserving Medicaid eligibility and avoiding many of the problems this article is addressing.

Ensure that your parents know that you have their best interests at heart, when assisting them with long-term care. Be respectful of your parents and tell them you’re not trying to take over.  Taking care of parents doesn’t have to be a fight, it should be about everyone helping each other.

Reference: Next Avenue (Jan. 30, 2020) “When Your Parents Need Financial Help”

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