Saving a Charitable Bequest

A charitable organization approached me recently because a Maryland resident left a large bequest in her Will to the organization, but the language in the Will limited the gift to be used by a certain class of persons served by the charitable organization.

Unfortunately, over time, the organization that was to receive the bequest had discovered that there are so few of the types of people the bequest was intended to benefit that the organization had been directing its resources to assist others who suffered similar disabilities, just not the particular disability identified in the bequest under the Will.

Fortunately, Maryland law allows the recipient of such a bequest to obtain a Court Order expanding the scope of the Will so that the intended recipient of the bequest is able to use the gifted funds in furtherance of its charitable purposes.

William Gatesman was able to file a pleading with the Circuit Court and obtain a court order without the necessity of a court hearing, thereby enabling the charitable organization to make effective use of the bequest and fulfilling the deceased person’s charitable intentions.

The Gatesman Law Office stands ready to resolve problems that may arise in the administration of the estate of a deceased person in an efficient and economical manner.

Client Meetings and Social Distancing

In a time of crisis, people may wonder how they can address urgent legal needs with the least risk to themselves when governments are calling for avoiding large gatherings of people and other forms of “social distancing.”

For years, William M. Gatesman has given people the opportunity to engage in free initial consultations by means of telephone conferences and email exchanges. People have welcomed these methods, some because they are busy and appreciate the convenience of such meetings, others because they have found that some lawyers insist on high-cost meetings just to get the ball rolling, and still others for any number of other reasons.

In addition, William Gatesman has worked with clients by sending draft documents by mail or email, or both, and has addressed client questions and concerns by telephone and email. Video conference also may be used to facilitate the representation.

Often, Mr. Gatesman will wrap up the engagement with a single meeting with the client, once the preliminary matters have been addressed in the manner discussed in the paragraphs above, and sometimes, if necessary, there will be multiple additional meetings, but only if those are needed to meet the client’s needs. Some engagements, however, may be completed entirely through remote communications.

While some law firms now are struggling to try to figure out how to meet a client’s needs with less face to face interaction, the Gatesman law office has years of experience in meeting clients’ needs through various forms of communications, including face to face meetings, telephone and email consultations, and other means.

William M. Gatesman stands ready to assist you and your loved ones with your legal needs even where social distancing is the order of the day.

Please feel free to contact Mr. Gatesman by telephone at 301-260-0095, or by email at contact@gatesmanlaw.com

Making a Claim in a Decedent’s Estate

When making a claim in a decedent’s estate, may the claimant rely on information provided by the Register of Wills through it’s online website? Or is such reliance risky?

It is important that one who seeks to make a claim in a decedent’s estate do so within 6 months following the decedent’s death, and that the claimant follow all the rules for making such a claim. Unfortunately, there is a risk in relying on the information provided by the online estate docket for a particular estate published by the Registers of Wills in Maryland. A recent case handled by William M. Gatesman illustrates this point.

In that case, the State of Maryland filed a $120,000 claim in a decedent’s estate for Medicaid benefits paid by the State of Maryland for the nursing home costs of the decedent before she died. The rules of court governing such claims require that, if the claim is filed with the Register of Wills, it must also be sent to the Personal Representative of the estate.

In this particular case, however, the Personal Representative never received a copy of the claim, and so, she denied the claim. Maryland petitioned the probate court for allowance of the claim. During the court hearing, evidence was presented that the State of Maryland had relied on the Register of Wills web page which, at the time the claim was made, listed a particular post office box address as the address of the Personal Representative. However, that address was incorrect – apparently the Register of Wills clerk made a typographical error when entering the address on the online docket page.

The question boiled down to this: even though the State of Maryland as claimant did not send a copy of the claim to the Personal Representative at the Personal Representative’s actual address, could the claim nevertheless be valid under the rules governing claims in a decedent’s estate because Maryland sent a copy of the claim to the address of the Personal Representative shown on the Register of Wills web page pertaining to the particular estate? In other words, could the claimant rely on the information set forth on the online estate listing published by the Register of Wills?

The resolution of that question depended on a thorough analysis of the statute and rules applicable to claims in an estate, and to a review of case law regarding statutory requirements of delivery of claims in contexts other than decedent’s estates (there being no law directly on point with respect to such estates). At the probate court hearing, William M. Gatesman was prepared to present such an analysis.

In the end, the probate court ruled that Maryland failed to meet the requirement that it deliver a copy of the claim on the Personal Representative of the estate, and the Personal Representative’s denial of the $120,000 claim was upheld (i.e. Maryland was not allowed to collect on its claim).

What this story reveals is that there are technical requirements a claimant must meet in order for such claimant to collect funds owed to the claimant from a decedent’s estate, and that reliance on information published by the Register of Wills may lead to the claimant losing its opportunity to collect on its claim.

William M. Gatesman stands ready to assist clients, either as claimants in an estate, or as Personal Representatives seeking to defend an estate against claims that are not properly submitted.

Medicaid Asset Preservation with IRAs

 

Spousal Protection Trusts  A very powerful asset preservation tool William M. Gatesman employs with married couples are Wills with Spousal Protection Trusts, a planning tool developed by Mr. Gatesman. With this tool, both spouses prepare a Will in which there is a trust for the benefit of the surviving spouse. Such trust is designed to be funded, not with assets passing through the estate, but with assets passing outside of probate, through pay on death accounts, beneficiary designations, life estate deeds, and by other means.

 

Protecting the Surviving Spouse  By using such a Spousal Protection Trust, spouses can set up their affairs such that, after the first of them dies, all the assets are set aside in the trust, available without restriction to the surviving spouse, but fully protected should the surviving spouse require long term care in a nursing home. Moreover, if such trust is properly implemented, the surviving spouse would be able to qualify for and obtain Medicaid benefits for long term care without delay if and when such spouse falls ill and requires nursing home care. In this way, all of the couple’s assets, to the extent not used by the surviving spouse prior to admission to a nursing home, would be preserved for future generations, and thereafter, all care costs would be covered by Medical Assistance. This is a very powerful planning strategy, but care must be taken to ensure that the plan is properly implemented.

 

Implementing the Plan with Tax Deferred Assets Often, when using this tool, the largest assets passing into such spousal protection trust are IRAs and other tax advantaged retirement plans. When this type of asset passes to a beneficiary – and the Spousal Protection Trust would be the beneficiary – special rules apply to continue the income tax deferral that is the hallmark of such investments. But the traditional method of preserving the tax deferred status of such accounts – by making regular required minimum distributions to the individual beneficiary – can reduce the primary benefit of using a Spousal Protection Trust, which is to protect all of the couple’s wealth if and when the surviving spouse requires long term care in a nursing home, which care could be paid for by the Medicaid program.

 

Asset Preservation with Tax Deferral  With proper guidance, however, a married couple can implement a plan that allows them to get the best of both worlds, that is, to prolong the income tax deferral on IRAs and qualified benefit plans for the longest time possible, on the one hand, and to prevent distributions of income and principal to the surviving spouse if and when such spouse might require long term care in a nursing home, on the other hand, thereby maximizing family wealth preservation.

 

Tax Planning Component of the Spousal Protection Trust  The key to obtaining “the best of both worlds” as discussed above is to structure the spousal protection trust as a retirement plan “accumulation trust.” Typically, estate planners will have clients utilize what is known as a “conduit trust” as the beneficiary of an IRA or other tax deferred retirement plan to ensure continued income tax deferral. However, while a properly drafted conduit trust will ensure continuing income tax deferral because such trust mandates that the retirement plan annual minimum distributions be paid from the trust to the surviving spouse, using a conduit trust for Medicaid asset preservation planning is counterproductive because all such minimum distributions received by the surviving spouse would be required to be paid to the nursing home as part of the surviving spouse’s contribution to her cost of care even after she would qualify for Medicaid benefits. [To be sure, the surviving spouse still could get Medicaid for nursing home care, however, the distribution of the required minimum distribution from the conduit trust to such spouse is a waste of assets because, with proper planning, such payments can be avoided.]

 

Putting it All Together  The way to continue the income tax deferral and to maximize income and asset preservation is to employ an accumulation trust in the Spousal Protection Trust. With an accumulation trust, the required minimum distribution from the retirement plan is distributed to the Trustee, but the Trustee is not required to pay such amount to the surviving spouse. Nevertheless because of the nature of the trust, the income tax deferral will continue to be allowed. This is easier said than done, however, because the tax law governing accumulation trusts for IRAs and other tax deferred retirement plans is intricate and complex.

 

Choosing the Right Advisor  Is it important, therefore, that the advocate you choose to assist you with your asset preservation estate planning be well versed in all aspects of law that would affect your situation, including estate planning, income tax planning, IRA planning, Medicaid planning, and other areas.

 

Qualifications  Before he studied law, William M. Gatesman obtained a Masters Degree in Accountancy with a focus on tax planning, and before becoming a lawyer, Mr. Gatesman worked as a tax consultant with a major CPA firm, and as a tax accountant in a major corporation. Mr. Gatesman has spent his career as a lawyer working in the area of estate planning and Medicaid planning, and related areas. Mr. Gatesman has the education, knowledge, and experience in all the areas of law that must be considered when doing asset preservation planning, and Mr. Gatesman relies on this background when he assist clients in employing Spousal Protection Trusts that include accumulation trusts as recipients of IRA and other retirement plan assets.

 

Maximizing Wealth Preservation  All of this knowledge and expertise enables William M. Gatesman to utilize sophisticated legal tools, such as the Spousal Protection Trust, which trust allows clients to maximize wealth preservation if a surviving spouse should require nursing home care in the future while still allowing such spouse to prolong the income tax deferral afforded by the inherited IRA or other retirement plan for as long as possible.

Sheltering Assets to Maintain Housing Benefits

Various articles on this website address ways in which aged or disabled persons may protect their assets and still get government benefits such as Medicaid for long term care in a nursing home, or Medicaid for health care in the community.  By retaining accumulated assets or protecting assets one is about to inherit, an individual can ensure for herself a better quality of life, especially when the only other alternative is to fully impoverish oneself to retain government benefits.

One tool lawyers utilize to enable clients to shelter assets is a trust.  There are various types of trusts that can be employed depending on the individual’s circumstances, and each type of trust has its advantages and disadvantages.

For example, the law will allow a disabled person to keep his or her accumulated wealth to allow for a higher quality of life and to still obtain Medicaid benefits.  [Such opportunity is separate and distinct from the benefit under the Affordable Care Act which allows non-disabled people with low incomes to obtain Medicaid health insurance.  Moreover, this long-standing opportunity afforded to disabled persons likely will persist even if the President and Congress were to repeal the Affordable Care Act as they have threatened to do.] Continue reading “Sheltering Assets to Maintain Housing Benefits”