PA same-sex marriage decision means inheritance tax savings

PA Governor Tom Corbett

PA Governor Tom Corbett

Same-sex marriage has come to Pennsylvania due to this week’s court ruling and Governor Corbett’s decision not to appeal the ruling.

This new development has wide-spread implications for estate planning and elder law, affecting such things as who can make health-care decisions for an incapacitated person, how much money a same-sex spouse can protect when applying for Medicaid, who will inherit from the estate of someone who died without a will, and many other issues.

In this post, let me take feature just one issue: Pennsylvania inheritance tax. Imagine two women named Pamela and Julia are a couple in a committed relationship. Julia has a taxable estate worth $500,000. Before the ruling, if Julia were to die and leave her entire estate to Pamela, her “friend” for tax purposes, Pennsylvania would have imposed a 15% inheritance tax. After the ruling, if the couple marry and Julia leaves her estate to her “spouse,” the tax rate is 0%.

Inheritance tax savings by being allowed to marry: $75,000.

In addition to all the intangible benefits that accompany the institution of marriage, same-sex couples can now enjoy a number of practical, money-saving advantages available to married couples in Pennsylvania.

“Observation” status for Medicare patients: what to do about it

Here is an issue that comes up again and again with Medicare patients who go to the hospital.

You think you have been admitted, only to  find out that the hospital has classified you under “observation” status. It makes an important difference in how Medicare pays for the stay, but it’s not well understood by the public.

Click here for an excellent article from the New York Times explaining the issue and offering advice on what to do if you, or a loved one, face this problem.


“Estate Planning Essentials” – our revised and updated workshop

For more than two years, we have regularly held a workshop on estate planning and asset protection. It has won praise from clients, financial advisors, attorneys, and other attendees.

Now we have updated and revised the workshop format, retaining the best material but adding new stories, examples, and illustrations to help attendees learn the most about how to arrange their estates for maximum benefit.

In Estate Planning Essentials, we start with asking attendees what motivated them to come to the workshop, and to spend time writing down their concerns and the impact estate planning (or the lack of it) will have on their lives, their assets, their lifestyles, and their families.

We explore the philosophy behind estate planning — why do it in the first place, how it fits into your life, and how it can affect you and your loved ones.

As always, we ask attendees at the beginning of the workshop to suggest questions and topics, so the presentation can be tailored to the interest of the participants.

The main part of the presentation emphasizes how the main estate planning vehicles — trusts, wills, powers of attorney, and health care directives — work, how they can meet life’s challenges (incapacity, care needs, living in a blended family, disability of family members, and so on), and how they can improve outcomes for all family members.

Anyone attending a workshop receives a complimentary opportunity to meet with a Sykes Elder Law attorney to review their own estate planning needs.

Upcoming workshop dates and times include:

  • February 20, 5:30 – 7:30
  • March 5, 2:30 – 4:30
  • March 20, 5:30 – 7:30

Call (412) 531-7123 to register. The workshop is free, but we keep class sizes small so you must have an advance registration.

Medicaid benefits increase January 1

A number of important Medicaid figures will increase as of January 1, 2012.

Most of the changes are figures that are typically adjusted every January. (Others change July 1, October 1, or at a lesser interval.)

Many reflect a 3.6% cost-of-living increase, the first since 2009.

One change is Pennsylvania’s penalty divisor, which will now be $8,112.13/month or $266.70/day. The penalty divisor is a figure used to calculate how long a Medicaid applicant will be ineligible for making a gift made during the look-back period. It is based on the state’s calculation of the average cost of nursing home care in Pennsylvania.

Figures for the community spouse resource allowance (CSRA) also increased. The new minimum is $22,728 and the new maximum is $113,640.

The monthly maintenance needs allowance (MMNA) has a new maximum figure of $2,841/month. The minimum MMNA gets adjusted in July.

Other new figures affect aspects of Medicaid that are more technical, and are mainly of interest to caseworkers, elder law attorneys, and others who work with Medicaid cases regularly:

Home maintenance deduction:  $720.10 (6 month limit)

Income figure to determine resource limit ($2,400 or $8,000):  $2,094/month

Excess home equity limit: $525,000

All these figures have been added to our complete list of current Medicaid figures, which you can always find on our website.