This weekend our New York estate planning attorney Bonnie Kraham had an article published in the Times Herald-Record where she explained the importance of beneficiary designations in New York estate plans. These designations are often less well-known than other aspects of an estate plan, such as trusts, wills, health-care proxies, and powers of attorney. The designation is a contractual document that directs where an asset will go upon your death. They are most often involved in IRAs, annuities, and insurance policies. Beneficiary decisions must be made in conjunction with other aspects of any estate plan to protect assets from outside costs and keep them in the bloodline.
For example, Attorney Kraham discussed beneficiary designations in the context of inheritance trusts. These trusts are increasingly popular and useful legal tools to protect a child’s inheritance from the child’s creditors or divorcing spouse. If you have an asset in a qualified plan, it is important for the contingent beneficiary designation to be that child’s inheritance trust, instead of the child as an individual. Essentially what this does is ensure that the benefit of the inheritance trust applies to the qualified asset. A spouse will typically be named the beneficiary with the child’s trust named as contingent beneficiary, ensuring that the funds remain in the bloodline and are protected from outsiders.
Similarly, when your New York estate plan involves use of a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust (MAPT), it is vital that beneficiaries be considered closely. In particular, Attorney Kraham explains that it is helpful to name the MAPT as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. Life insurance policy proceeds are never assets held in the name of the policy holder, and so when those proceeds are passed directly into the MAPT they do not count toward the “penalty period” that otherwise applies to asset transfers within five years of applying for Medicaid. As the article explained, we recently had a client in this exact situation. The man had a $500,000 life insurance policy on his wife with the couple’s MAPT named as the beneficiary. If the insurance proceeds were paid directly to the surviving spouse, those funds would have been unprotected from possible nursing home costs. In addition, the MAPT funds can still be used to pay for things like real estate taxes, home insurance, and home repairs. However, this option is only logical when the surviving spouse does not need the life insurance policy proceeds while alive for day-to-day living expenses.