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Monday, November 14, 2016

A Shared Home but Not a Joint Deed

Many people erroneously assume that when one spouse dies, the other spouse receives all of the remaining assets; this is often not true and frequently results in unintentional disinheritance of the surviving spouse.

In cases where a couple shares a home but only one spouse’s name is on it, the home will not automatically pass to the surviving pass, if his or her name is not on the title. Take, for example, a case of a husband and wife where the husband purchased a home prior to his marriage, and consequently only his name is on the title (although both parties resided there, and shared expenses, during the marriage). Should the husband pass away before his wife, the home will not automatically pass to her by “right of survivorship”. Instead, it will become part of his probate estate. This means that there will need to be a court probate case opened and an executor appointed. If the husband had a will, the executor would be the person he nominated in his will who would carry out the testator’s instructions regarding disposition of the assets. If he did not have a will, state statutes, known as intestacy laws, would provide who has priority to inherit the assets.

In our example, if the husband had a will then the house would pass to whomever is to receive his assets pursuant to that will. That may very well be his wife, even if her name is not on the title.

If he dies without a will, state laws will determine who is entitled to the home. Many states have rules that would provide only a portion of the estate to the surviving spouse. If the deceased person has children, even if children of the current marriage, local laws might grant a portion of the estate to those children. If this is a second marriage, children from the prior marriage may be entitled to more of the estate. If this is indeed the case, the surviving spouse may be forced to leave the home, even if she had contributed to home expenses during the course of the marriage.

Laws of inheritance are complex, and without proper planning, surviving loved ones may be subjected to unintended expense, delays and legal hardships. If you share a residence with a significant other or spouse, you should consult with an attorney to determine the best course of action after taking into account your unique personal situation and goals. There may be simple ways to ensure your wishes are carried out and avoid having to probate your partner’s estate at death.


Monday, October 24, 2016

What is Estate Recovery?

Medicaid is a federal health program for individuals with low income and financial resources that is administered by each state. Each state may call this program by a different name. In California, for example, it is referred to as Medi-Cal. This program is intended to help individuals and couples pay for the cost of health care and nursing home care.

Most people are surprised to learn that Medicare (the health insurance available to all people over the age of 65) does not cover nursing home care. The average cost of nursing home care, also called "skilled nursing" or "convalescent care," can be $8,000 to $10,000 per month. Most people do not have the resources to cover these steep costs over an extended period of time without some form of assistance.

Qualifying for Medicaid can be complicated; each state has its own rules and guidelines for eligibility. Once qualified for a Medicaid subsidy, Medicaid will assign you a co-pay (your Share of Cost) for the nursing home care, based on your monthly income and ability to pay.

At the end of the Medicaid recipient's life (and the spouse's life, if applicable), Medicaid will begin "estate recovery" for the total cost spent during the recipient's lifetime. Medicaid will issue a bill to the estate, and will place a lien on the recipient's home in order to satisfy the debt. Many estate beneficiaries discover this debt only upon the death of a parent or loved one. In many cases, the Medicaid debt can consume most, if not all, estate assets.

There are estate planning strategies available that can help you accelerate qualification for a Medicaid subsidy, and also eliminate the possibility of a Medicaid lien at death. However, each state's laws are very specific, and this process is very complicated. It is very important to consult with an experienced elder law attorney in your jurisdiction.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Seven Tips for Negotiating Your Divorce Settlement

Regardless of how long you have been married, negotiating a settlement is the most important part of the divorce process. Although it is no easy task, working with your spouse to arrive at mutually agreed terms of your marital dissolution is easier on your wallet and your psyche. Whatever conditions caused the breakdown in the marriage are likely still present throughout the divorce negotiation, exacerbated by emotions such as anger and fear as you each transition into the next stage of your lives.

However, staying focused on what’s best for your future will serve you well as you navigate these tumultuous waters. Taking your divorce case to trial and letting the court decide what will become of your property or children is rarely in your best interest. Although you may not get everything you hoped for during a settlement negotiation, you will save a tremendous amount of money, time and emotional anguish.

Divorce settlement negotiations involve a degree of both skill and art, both of which can be attained by following a few simple tips. Even if your attorney is doing the negotiating on your behalf, it is important that you are clear regarding your priorities, so you can make decisions that are truly in your own best interest for the future life you are establishing post-divorce.

Negotiating a settlement agreement necessarily involves a certain amount of give and take, on both sides, so keep in mind that you most likely won’t get everything you want. But following the tips below can help ensure you get what’s most important to you.

  • Establish clear priorities.
  • Know what you can give up completely, where you can be flexible and those critical items where you are unable to budge.
  • Be realistic about your options and the bigger picture, so you can be reasonable when you must “give” something in order to “take” something.
  • Stay focused on the negotiation itself, and your future; avoid recalling past resentments or re-opening past wounds. Your divorce settlement negotiation is no place for “revenge” which can ultimately delay your case and cost you thousands in unnecessary legal expenses.
  • If your soon-to-be-ex-spouse becomes emotional or subjects you to personal attacks, don’t take it personally. This may be easier said than done, but it is important to stay focused on your priorities and realize that such “noise” does not get you any closer to a settlement agreement.
  • If you spouse presents you with a settlement offer, consider it carefully and discuss it with your attorney. It may not include everything you want, but that may be a fair trade off in order to finalize your divorce and move on with your new life.
  • If you are negotiating your own settlement agreement, consult with an attorney before you make an offer to your spouse or sign any proposed agreement.

By keeping the focus on your priorities, and avoiding the emotionally-charged aspects of your failed marriage, you can ensure you negotiate a divorce settlement agreement that you can live with.
 


Monday, October 10, 2016

What Does the Term "Funding the Trust" Mean in Estate Planning?

If you are about to begin the estate planning process, you have likely heard the term "funding the trust" thrown around a great deal. What does this mean? And what will happen if you fail to fund the trust?

The phrase, or term, "funding the trust" refers to the process of titling your assets into your revocable living trust. A revocable living trust is a common estate planning document and one which you may choose to incorporate into your own estate planning. Sometimes such a trust may be referred to as a "will substitute" because the dispositive terms of your estate plan will be contained within the trust instead of the will. A revocable living trust will allow you to have your affairs bypass the probate court upon your death, using a revocable living trust will help accomplish that goal.

Upon your death, only assets titled in your name alone will have to pass through the court probate process. Therefore, if you create a trust, and if you take the steps to title all of your assets in the name of the trust, there would be no need for a court probate because no assets would remain in your name. This step is generally referred to as "funding the trust" and is often overlooked. Many people create the trust but yet they fail to take the step of re-titling assets in the trust name. If you do not title your trust assets into the name of the trust, then your estate will still require a court probate.

A proper trust-based estate plan would still include a will that is sometimes referred to as a "pour-over" will. The will acts as a backstop to the trust so that any asset that is in your name upon your death (instead of the trust) will still get into the trust. The will names the trust as the beneficiary. It is not as efficient to do this because your estate will still require a probate, but all assets will then flow into the trust.

Another option: You can also name your trust as beneficiary of life insurance and retirement assets. However, retirement assets are special in that there is an "income" tax issue. Be sure to seek competent tax and legal advice before deciding who to name as beneficiary on those retirement assets.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Estate Planning: How Certificates of Shares Are Passed Down


How is the funding handled if you decide to use a living trust?

Certificates represent shares of a company. There are generally two types of company shares: those for a publicly traded company, and those for a privately held company, which is not traded on one of the stock exchanges.

Let's assume you hold the physical share certificates of a publicly held company and the shares are not held in a brokerage account. If, upon your death, you own shares of that company's stock in certificated form, the first step is to have the court appoint an executor of your estate.

Once appointed, the executor would write to the transfer agent for the company, fill out some forms, present copies of the court documents showing their authority to act for your estate, and request that the stock certificates be re-issued to the estate beneficiaries.
Read more . . .


Monday, September 19, 2016

Adopting Internationally? Immigration Issues to Consider

Adopting a child from a foreign country can be an incredible experience for both the parent and the child but it is not an easy process.  Even after the exhausting process of finding the right child, the adopting parents must work with officials from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department in order to bring the child home to the U.S.

There are three different ways for U.S. citizens to adopt a child internationally. They are Hague, Orphan (Non-Hague) and adopting an immediate relative. The Hague process applies to children who are in countries that are a party to the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention. The Orphan process applies to children who are in countries that are not a party to the Hague Convention.

In Hague adoptions, parents will typically choose an Adoption Service Provider that is Hague Accredited. An Adoption Service Provider will assist the parents with the adoption. Parents will next complete a home study from an authorized provider. Before adopting a child, parents need to apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once USCIS approves the application, parents will work with an Adoption Service Provider to get a placement. Once a placement is found, the parents will file a petition with USCIS, and will then adopt the child. Upon adoption, the parents will obtain an immigrant visa for the child, and will transport the child to the U.S.

Non-Hague adoptions, or Orphan adoptions, apply to foreign-born children who either don’t have any parents, or have one parent who’s unable to care for the child and signed a document to that effect. As part of the case, the USCIS will investigate to verify that particular child is an orphan before allowing the adoption. Much of the rest of the adoption is similar to a Hague adoption – the adopting parents will need a home study and a visa for the adoptive child.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Disinheritance

Inheritance laws involve legal rights to property after a death and such laws differ from state-to-state.   Heirs usually consist of close family members and exclude estranged relatives.  Depending on the wording of a will, an individual can be intentionally, or even unintentionally, disinherited.

In most cases, spouses may not be legally disinherited.  Certain contracts, however, allow for a legitimate disinheritance, such as prenuptial agreements or postnuptial agreements.  These contracts are typically valid methods of disinheritance because the presumed-to-be inheriting spouse has agreed to the arrangement by signing the document.  

If there is no prenuptial arrangement, then the state’s elective share statute or “equitable distribution” laws protect the surviving spouse.  Pursuant to the elective share statute, he or she may collect a certain percentage of the estate. 

In states that follow “community property” or “common law” rules, however, the outcome may be different.   An attorney should be consulted for clarification of the differences in the law.  Divorces affect spousal inheritance rights.  Post-divorce, it is prudent to consult an attorney to draft a fresh will, in order to prevent confusion and unintentional dissemination of assets.

If the will is unambiguous, it is usually possible for a child to be disinherited.   It should be noted, however, that it is highly likely that close relatives will challenge or contest a will in which they have been disinherited.  Fighting such a lawsuit may put a great financial strain on the estate's assets.  Depending on how time-consuming and expensive it is to defend the will, less money may be available for distribution to the intended beneficiaries. 

There are ways to protect estate assets from such problems, for example through trusts.  It is essential for an individual to receive the counsel of a licensed lawyer in order to effectively protect his or her estate as inexpensively as possible.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Preventing Will Contests

So, you have a will, but is it valid?  A will can be contested for a multitude of reasons after it is presented to a probate court.  It is in your best interest to have an attorney draft the will to prevent any ambiguity in the provisions of the document that others could dispute later. 

A will may be targeted on grounds of fraud, mental incapacity, validity, duress, or undue influence.  These objections can draw out the probate process and make it very time consuming and expensive.  More importantly, an attorney can help ensure that your property is put into the right hands, rather than distributed to unfamiliar people or organizations that you did not intend to provide for. 

At the time you executed the will, you must have been mentally competent, or of “sound mind.”  A court will inquire as to whether you had full awareness of what you were doing.   There will also be an inquiry into your understanding and knowledge of the assets in your name.  If, at the moment you executed the will, you were pressured or influenced by another individual to sign the document, it may be invalidated. 

If the document was signed under duress or undue influence, the provisions are likely to be against your intentions or requests.  Moreover, if you are trying to nullify a will on your own behalf, you are likely to need an attorney because it is very difficult and complicated to demonstrate the existence of duress, fraud, or undue influence.   If drafting a new will, counsel can ensure that your document abides by all of the validity requirements, so the will’s provisions can successfully carry out your intentions after your death.

For example, the will creator or “testator,” is usually required to sign the document before several witnesses who are over the age of eighteen, during a certain period of time.  A will or a certain bequest to a person could be deemed void if the beneficiary was also a witness.   In your state, you may be able to execute a “self-proving affidavit,” which may do away with some of the requirements in order to establish a valid will.  The testator should also designate a person to execute the document.  Consult your attorney to ensure that your will comports with your state’s particular laws and is sustainable against any future contests.  

 


Monday, August 22, 2016

The Revocable Living Trust

There are many benefits to a revocable living trust that are not available in a will.  An individual can choose to have one or both, and an attorney can best clarify the advantages of each.  If the person engaged in planning his or her estate wants to retain the ability to change or rescind the document, the living trust is probably the best option since it is revocable. 

The document is called a “living” trust because it is applicable throughout one's lifetime.  Another individual or entity, such as a bank, can be appointed as trustee to manage and protect assets and to distribute assets to beneficiaries upon one's death. 

A living trust will also protect assets if and when a person becomes sick or disabled.  The designated trustee will hold “legal title” of the assets in the trust.  If an individual wants to maintain full control over his or her property, he or she may also choose to remain the holder of the title as trustee. 

It should be noted, however, that the revocable power that comes with the trust may involve taxation. Usually, a trust is considered a part of the decedent’s estate, and therefore, an estate tax applies.  One cannot escape liability via a trust because the assets are still subject to debts upon death.  On the upside, the trust may not need to go through probate, which could save months of time and attorneys' fees. 

The revocable living trust is contrary to the irrevocable living trust, in that the latter cannot be rescinded or altered during one's lifetime.  It does, however, avoid the tax consequences of a revocable trust.  An attorney can explain the intricacies of other protections an irrevocable living trust provides. 

Anyone who wants to keep certain information or assets private, will likely want to create a living trust.  A trust is not normally made public, whereas a will is put into the public record once it passes through probate.   Consulting with an attorney can help determine the best methods to ensure protection of assets in individual cases.   


Monday, August 15, 2016

Testamentary Substitutes

In states that have “elective share statutes,” a surviving spouse is legally entitled to a certain percentage of the deceased's estate, even if that spouse has attempted to disinherit or to provide a lesser bequest, or gift, under the will.  In “separate property” states, an elective share statute is likely to be in effect.  If the estate in question is valued at $50,000 or less, the elective share is likely to be the actual amount of the net estate.  

“Testamentary substitutes” are removed from particular assets that would otherwise pass to the surviving spouse.  Assets passing by will or through intestacy could cause a reduction in the elective share amount as well.  Totten trusts, such as Payable-On-Death Bank Accounts (PODs), Retirement or joint bank accounts, gifts causa mortis ("gifts made by the decedent in contemplation of death,”) U.S. savings bonds, jointly held property, and gifts or transfers that were made approximately one year prior to death, are some examples of testamentary substitutes. 

If a gift was made about one year prior to death, yet involves medical or educational expenses, then the gift may not qualify as a true testamentary substitute.  With regard to PODs, the spouse, offspring, or grandchildren will be named as beneficiaries.  The funds of a POD are only distributed upon the decedent’s death.   Testamentary Trusts are listed in the will until the designated property passes to the trust upon the testator’s death.  

Generally, a gift causa mortis is only active upon the decedent’s expected death and is typically revocable.  Moreover, certain elements must exist to create a valid gift causa mortis.  These include an intent to create “an immediate transfer of ownership,” valid delivery, acceptance of the gift by the donee, and the donor’s “anticipation of imminent death.”  There are also certain circumstances by which gifts causa mortis are not valid.  For example, if the donee passes away before the donor, it is unlikely that a property interest was transferred.  Gifts causa mortis are also taxed as if the testator had listed the gifts in his or her will. 

In such cases, testamentary substitutes are generally put back into the net estate total to determine the elective share amount that the surviving spouse will collect.  The aforementioned may vary if property is held jointly, as joint tenants or otherwise, because the spouse may have a right of survivorship in the property.  Estate planning attorneys are aware of all the ins and outs of testamentary substitutes and how they may affect the distribution of your assets.  It is useful, if not essential, to consult with a knowledgeable attorney when making arrangements regarding testamentary substitutes.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Purchasing a Business: Should You Consider Buying Assets as Opposed to Shares?

Of the two common methods used when buying a business, the purchase of shares and the purchase of assets – the asset-purchase option is perhaps the least understood but in many cases the most advantageous. They offer the following benefits:  

In some states, the sale of all or most of a business’s assets requires the majority vote of the business’s shareholders, but the transaction is not subject to the appraisal rights of shareholders who did not vote in favor of the sale.

  • When buying a business’s assets, a buyer can elect to purchase only selected assets. In doing so, he or she avoids exposure to liabilities and minimizes risk.
  • When a buyer purchases a business’s assets he or she can allocate the purchase price among the assets to reflect the fair market value of each asset. This legal right offers two opportunities: 1) a step-up of the tax basis, 2) higher depreciation and amortization deductions, both of which lead to future tax savings.
  • The avoidance of double taxation in the event the target business is an S-corporation, LLC or partnership.

The above advantages are significant but must be balanced against potential disadvantages. These include:

  • Asset sales can be complex in that they typically require the consent of third parties regarding, for example, office space leasing, contract assignments and permit transfers. Since third parties may use the transaction to renegotiate contracts, delays and cost increases are often experienced.
  • When buying a business or a percentage of a business, it’s often not necessary to delineate exactly what you are buying. This isn’t usually the case when purchasing a portion of assets. Instead, the buyer will likely need to define the specific assets he or she wishes to acquire. If the buyer is acquiring a subsidiary or a division, he or she typically acquires the assets that are used exclusively or primarily by that business unit. However, “shared assets” can cause legal confusion, and it’s usually necessary to negotiate their cost and transfer and/or licensure.
  • If the target business is a C-corporation, it is subject to double taxation in the event of an asset sale.
  • If there are any disclosed or undisclosed liabilities that the buyer is not including in the purchase, there is a risk that the transaction will violate fraudulent conveyance laws on the part of the target business, which may ultimately impact the purchaser who might be compelled to reverse the transaction.

Perhaps it’s because of these serious disadvantages that less than a fifth of all acquisitions are structured as asset purchases. Nonetheless, it makes sense to consider all options when deciding how best to structure any acquisition.       


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