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Federal Estate Tax Update…

As mentioned elsewhere in our website, there is no federal estate tax since January 1, 2010. Consequently, many estate plans will cause unintended results. If death occurs with no estate tax, the mechanics of a married couple’s estate plan which includes a marital trust and a credit shelter trust may cause distribution of all assets to the credit shelter trust. In certain circumstances, that may not fulfill the couple’s estate plan objectives. There may also be lost a basis adjustment resulting in subsequent capital gain. People should meet with their estate planning lawyer to review this situation. 

Many estate planners have been expecting Congress to enact an estate tax and make it retroactive to January 1 , 2010. Nobody knows when and if that will happen. Recent commentary speculates that Congress may enact the estate tax as part of a jobs bill. However, since nothing is certain, you should not delay reviewing your estate plans to be certain that all is in order following the recent change in law.

TO TAX….OR NOT TO TAX………THAT IS THE QUESTION!!!

TO TAX….OR NOT TO TAX………THAT IS THE QUESTION!!! The Federal Estate Tax was repealed on January 1, 2010 for a one-year period pursuant to the tax law revisions made in 2001. The 2001 legislation also scheduled the Federal Estate Tax to be reinstated on January 1, 2011. However, it appears as though congress may reinstate the Federal Estate Tax early in the 2010 session. Over the last few weeks, many commentators have discussed whether federal estate tax legislation, when passed, should be applied retroactively to January 1, 2010. Retroactive application seems to be logical and fair. However, House Ways and Means Chairman Rangel seems to shy away from retroactivity. While Senate Finance Chairman Bacus promotes retroactive legislation. In order to avoid uncertainty, all are advised not to die until Washington makes up its mind whether or not to impose a tax on your estate.

NO FEDERAL ESTATE TAX!!!

This is the first time our country has not had a Federal Estate Tax since 1915. Legislation that was expected during the last few months of 2009 never occurred, and as a result…we have no estate tax for 2010.

 Several concerns remain:

  • Inheritances are now subject to much higher capital gains when sold because the basis of assets inherited are  the same as in the hands of the decedent as there is no basis adjustment to date of death value with certain exceptions;
  • Congress is intending to make a change this year which would install an estate tax and make it retroactive to January 1 and have an exemption from $2 million to $5million (or agree to 3.5million) and probably a 45% tax rate;
  • If there is no change or new law this year then , under current law, 12 months from now, on January 1, 2011, the estate tax is reinstated with only a $1 million exemption and a 55% tax rate;
  • Also affect to January 1, 2010, there is no generation skipping tax. But if you give a gift to a grandchild and they pass a law during 2010 installing the generation skipping tax and make it retroactive to January 1, 2010, a tax will have to be paid.

Somewhat confusing to plan for, but definitely don’t cash in your life insurance policies yet.

POWER OF ATTORNEY CAN CHANGE RETIREMENT PLAN BENEFICIARY

POWER OF ATTORNEY CAN CHANGE RETIREMENT PLAN BENEFICIARY. In a case decided on December 28, 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the principal’s Power of Attorney granting the agent the power to engage in retirement plan transactions authorized his agent to change the beneficiary of the principal’s retirement plan. (IN RE: ESTATE OF RONALD SLOMSKI v.THE THERMOCLAD COMPANY, et.al.J-68A-2009; J-68B-2009, DECEMBER 28, 2009). The principal in Slomski named his mother as agent in his power of attorney. Sixteen days before the death of the principal, the agent changed the beneficiaries of principal’s retirement account from his children to the principal’s siblings. The PA Supreme Court reversed the PA Superior Court noting that a principal can give authority to an agent to engage in retirement plan transactions by including the simple language “to engage in retirement plan transactions” in the power of Attorney (20 Pa.C.S. § 5602(a)(18)). 20 Pa.C.S. § 5603(q) provides that a power to “engage in retirement plan transactions” shall include, inter. alia., the power to exercise all powers with respect to retirement plans that the principal could if present. Since the principal in Slomski retained the right to change the beneficiaries of his retirement plan, the agent named in his power of attorney held the same power.

Important Figures for 2010

Listed below are important estate planning elder law figures for 2010.   Santa Clause apparently forgot to visit Washington DC this year………..at least where the average American is concerned:

  • The Annual Gift Tax Exclusion will remain at $13,000.
  • The Medicaid Spousal Impoverishment figures remain unchanged for 2010.  
  • The minimum community spouse resource allowances (CSRA) remains $21,912.  
  • The maximum community spouse resource allowances (CSRA) remains at $109,560.  
  • The maximum monthly maintenance needs allowance remains at $2,739.  
  • The minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance remains at $1,821.25 until July 1, 2010.  
  • The income cap for 2010 applicable in “income cap” states should remain at $2,022 a month since the SSI federal benefit rate did not change.  
The 2010 limitations on the deductibility of long-term care insurance premiums have been issued by the IRS.
  • If you are age 40 or less before the close of the taxable year, your maximum deduction is $330.00.  
  • If you are over age 40 and not more than 50 before the close of the taxable year, your maximum deduction is $620.00. 
  • If you are over age 50 and not more than 60 before the close of the taxable year, your maximum deduction is $1,230.00.  
  • If you are over age 60 and not more than 70 before the close of the taxable year, your maximum deduction is $3,290.00.  
  • If you are over age 70 before the close of the taxable year, your maximum deduction is $4,110.00.  
Policies which pay a per diem rate are not counted as income to the extent that such benefits do not exceed the greater of the beneficiary’s total qualified long-term care expenses or $290 per day for 2010.

The Medicare Basic Part B premium increased from $96.40 to $110.50 per month for 2010. However, a “hold-harmless” provision in the Medicare law prohibits Part B premiums from rising more than that year’s cost of living increase in Social Security benefits. Therefore, most Medicare beneficiaries should be unaffected by this increase.  

  • The Medicare Part B deductible: increased to $155 from $135.  
  • The Medicare Part A deductible increased to $1,100 from $1,068.  
  • The co-payment for hospital stay days 61-90 increased to $275/day vs. $267/day in 2009.  
  • The co-payment for hospital stay days 91 and beyond increased to $550/day vs. $534/day in 2009.  
  • Likewise, the skilled nursing facility co-payment for days 21 through 100 increased to 137.50/day from the 2009 co-pay of $133.50.   
Premiums for higher-income individuals are as follows:  
  • 2010 monthly premium of $154.70 for individuals with annual income between $85,000 and $107,000 and married couples with annual incomes between $170,000 and $214,000;  
  • 2010 monthly premium of $221.00 for individuals with annual incomes between $107,000 and $160,000 and married couples with annual incomes between $214,000 and $320,000;  
  • 2010 monthly premium of $287.30 for individuals with annual incomes between $160,000 and $214,000 and married couples with annual incomes between $320,000 and $428,000;  
  • 2010 monthly premium of $353.60 for individuals with annual incomes of $214,000 or more and married couples with annual incomes of $428,000 or more. 
  • For beneficiaries who are married but file separate tax returns, the 2010 monthly premium will be: $287.30 for annual income between $85,000 and $128,000; and 353.60 for beneficiaries with annual incomes greater than $128,000.

Since there was no increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI-W) from the third quarter of 2008 through the third quarter of 2009, monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will not automatically increase in 2010.

Oh well……..maybe things will be better for 2011 !!!!

Happy Holidays to all !!!!

Healthcare / Estate Tax Update

The Senate Democrats agreed on redefining the nations health care system Saturday and hope to have legislation in the very near future. The Bill includes a new national insurance plan including a government run long term care insurance program. This could have a significant effect on elder law planning. Let’s see if this provision survives in the conference bill.

Regarding the estate tax expected legislation we note that the provisions as contained in the McDermott Bill and the Baucas Bill introduced earlier this year as discussed in our Updates were not part of the Bill passed earlier this month by the House; some of the items include: portability of estate tax exemptions between spouses, re-coupling of the gift tax exemption with the estate tax exemption, and re-instituting the state death tax credit. Will these items be in the Senate version? The more significant question in the couple weeks before New Years is…. will there even be a Senate Bill passed this year?

Medicare’s Open Enrollment Season Has Begun

Medicare’s Open Enrollment Season Has Begun

It is that time of year again — time to reassess whether your Medicare plan is working for you. Medicare’s open enrollment period began November 15 and continues until midnight December 31. During this period, you may enroll in a Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan or, if you currently have a plan, you may change plans. In addition, during this period you can return to traditional Medicare from a Medicare Advantage (managed care) plan, enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, or change Medicare Advantage plans. Beneficiaries can go to www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to make changes in their Medicare prescription drug and health plan coverage. If you take no action, you will remain in your current plan unless your Medicare Advantage or drug plan is terminating its Medicare contract. Also, if you receive the Low-Income Subsidy (LIS) to help pay for some or most of your Part D drug costs, you may be randomly reassigned to a different plan. (For more on the LIS program, also known as “Extra Help,” click here.) But even beneficiaries who were satisfied with their plan in 2009 need to review their options for 2010. Prescription drug plans can change their premiums, deductibles, the list of drugs they cover, and their plan rules for covered drugs, exceptions and appeals. Medicare Advantage plans can change their entire benefit package and as well as their provider network. Average premiums for prescription drug plans will rise 11 percent from $35 in 2009 to nearly $39 per month in 2010, which is a 50 percent increase from $25.93 in 2006, the first year of the Medicare Part D drug benefit. Also, more drug plans will charge a deductible in 2010. Sixty percent of plans will charge a deductible, up 15 percent from 2009. The number of plans that offer enrollees some coverage in the doughnut hole — the coverage gap when consumers pay the full price for their prescriptions — continues to shrink as well. At www.medicare.gov/MPDPF you can evaluate drug plans. The Web site allows you to enter the list of medications you currently take to determine the amount that each prescription drug plan available in your area charges for premiums, copayments, and deductibles. It also allows you to compare Medicare prescription drug plans based on customer service and other criteria. You can compare Medicare Advantage and Original Medicare plans at www.medicare.gov/MPPF/. If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, chances are it offers its own prescription drug coverage.

Some factors to look at when evaluating your drug plan include:

• What is the monthly premium?

• Does the plan continue to cover necessary drugs?

• Does the plan provide coverage for drugs in the “doughnut hole” or coverage gap?

• What pharmacies are covered under the plan?

Some factors to look at when comparing Medicare Advantage plans include:

• What is the monthly premium?

• What is the cost sharing for doctor visits?

• Which doctors and hospitals are covered?

• Are any extra benefits included and will they be useful to you?

Medicare for 55 and Up Highly Popular, but Prospects Uncertain

Medicare for 55 and Up Highly Popular, but Prospects Uncertain

 

A tentative deal on Senate health reform legislation reportedly includes a provision that would allow individuals age 55 to 64 who are uninsured or cannot afford private health insurance to buy into the Medicare program. The Medicare buy-in provision would replace a proposal for a government-run insurance plan, or “public option,” which has met with opposition from some Democratic senators.

The idea of a Medicare buy-in has attracted the interest of senators who had opposed the public option, and even some proponents of the public option are applauding.

“Expanding Medicare is an unvarnished, complete victory for people like me,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY). “It’s the mother of all public options. We’ve taken something people know and expanded it.”

But hospitals and doctors have launched a full-court press against the proposal. Both the American Hospital Association and the the Federation of American Hospitals are urging their members to speak out against the plan, arguing it would hurt their members because Medicare pays providers at a lower rate than private insurers.

(UPDATE: One senator whose vote is critical to health reform’s passage, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), has signaled that he may join Republicans in opposing any bill if it permits uninsured individuals as young to 55 to purchase Medicare coverage.)

Polls Show Widespread Support

Nevertheless, the idea of a Medicare buy-in is highly popular among American voters, according to an updated Issue Brief on the Medicare buy-in released by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Based on polls conducted in 2000, 2004 and 2009, about three-quarters of adults in the U.S. have said they support the idea.

The Kaiser brief also offers a detailed profile of the population of older adults likely to take advantage of the program. The Foundation reports that while most adults ages 55 to 64 have health coverage through their work, about 13 percent — more than four million — are uninsured. More than one-quarter of these uninsured older adults are in fair or poor health and consequently face both higher premiums and higher denial rates in the individual market than younger uninsured adults.

At the same time, many of these four million older adults have low incomes and would likely require subsidies to afford Medicare, depending on the cost. The median family income for this group was $22,510 in 2008, says Kaiser. More than half of those in fair or poor health did not get needed care in the past year due to cost. A report last year by AARP based on data from the Congressional Budget Office estimated that an earlier proposal to expand Medicare to people aged 62 to 64 would cost participants $634 a month, or $7,600 a year.

Nevertheless, the Kaiser brief concludes that “[i]n the context of the current debate, a Medicare buy-in could provide coverage in a relatively short period of time, as early as 2011, and target help to those who are most likely to have difficulty purchasing coverage on their own in the individual market.”

A Jobs Program in Disguise?

Some commentators have suggested that a Medicare expansion could have beneficial effects beyond assisting the uninsured near-elderly. For example, many of the uninsured, who are currently financial burdens to hospitals, would switch to Medicare and start helping hospitals’ bottom lines. Others have suggested that the Medicare buy-in could be viewed as an economic stimulus program. A certain number of individuals aged 55 to 64 would be persuaded to retire hearly knowing they would be guaranteed health coverage, opening up jobs for younger workers.

Senate Democrats did not release details of how the Medicare buy-in would work, including whether subsidies would be provided to those who sign up and how extensive those subsidies would be. The Democratic leadership has sent its proposed deal to the Congressional Budget Office for a cost analysis, which could heavily influence the level of congressional support it eventually attracts.

Update on Estate Tax Bill Pending in Congress

It has been suggested that the Bill as passed by the House, will not become law by year end. Instead, legislation to avoid elimination of the estate, gift, and GST tax and adjustment to basis will be enacted during 2010 which will be retroactive to January 1,2010. John Buckley, Chief Tax Counsel of the House Ways and Means Committee, stated that Congress could not change the repeal retroactively. Will the Senate pass a Bill by year end for a one year extension of the current law? Stay tuned…………only 17 days left!
 

 

The House of Representatives Passes Estate Tax Amendment

Finally we have some answers. On December 3, 2009, the House of Representatives passed Mr. Pomeroy’s Bill HR4154 amending the Internal Revenue Code making permanent the current estate tax exemption of $3.5 million, and the current $1 million gift tax exemption and generation-skipping, and 45% tax rate. This is a compromise from the proposed bills of last spring of $2 million estate exemption and $5 million estate exemption. HR 4154 also retained the favorable adjustment to basis of assets so as to avoid a large capital gains on sale of inherited assets by the heirs. This is very important; because under current law, to become effective 24 days from today, there will be no estate tax and no basis adjustment. For example, if someone dies in 2010 with a closely held company, or publicly traded stock or real estate, lets say worth $1 million with a low basis and an heir receives said asset and subsequently sells the heir will have a large capital gain tax. If the House bill discussed above becomes law there will be no estate tax and no or little capital gains tax in the above example. Let’s hope the Senate follows the same route. We will keep you appraised.