NuWire News published an interesting blog post last week that runs down a few ways that community members can use estate planning techniques to protect assets in "uncertain times." Of course, our New York estate planning lawyers realize that uncertainty exists at all times, because no one knows for sure what tomorrow might bring. However, there are always some circumstances when future financial trouble seems particularly likely--such as when one might need long-term care either at home or a long-term care facility. The article authors note that it is always beneficial to shield assets before they become a target, otherwise, depending on the circumstances, there are a range of penalties that may attached to the conveyance. For example, when it comes to applying for New York Medicaid, it is vital that asset transfers be made at least five years before applying. Strategies exist to protect assets even when on the nursing home doorstep (without five years to wait), but there is much more than can be done the earlier one takes the time to plan for these issues.
Outside of the long-term care context, there is similar benefit from protecting assets well ahead of time, before they may be targeted by a creditor. The article discusses ten different techniques that may be applicable, depending on one's circumstances. For example, the story discusses spousal gifting trusts. These are special trusts (also known as irrevocable grantor trusts) that allow married couples to protect assets from creditors and estate taxes while still retaining control and use of the assets.
Obviously insurance considerations are also important for protecting assets in uncertain times. After all, insurance is all about having security in the face of potential problems down the road. Long-term care insurance is clearly helpful to account for senior care costs. Unfortunately, that particular insurance is often out of reach for middle class community members. However, even basic life insurance should not be forgotten when thinking about estate plans. For younger families with children life insurance provides security in the case of untimely death. For wealthier families the insurance can also be important to protect assets from estate taxes.
At the end of the day there is a seemingly endless array of combinations that may work in each individual case to protect assets from the uncertainty of the future. In many cases a combination of trusts, gifts, donations, insurances, and other strategies combine to protect assets from taxes, long-term care costs, and creditors. Sadly, many community members fail to take advantage of these options until it is too late, when the adverse event--death, divorce, lawsuit--has already occurred.
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